Immigration activists were arrested Thursday outside the Capitol after blocking traffic while pushing for passage of legislation that would overhaul the system.
The Capitol Police arrested dozens of women blockading Independence Avenue in front of the Cannon and Longworth House office buildings Thursday morning.
More than 100 women with matching red shirts chanted “Si se puede!” as they sat cross-legged and arms linked in a circle to block traffic. The act of civil disobedience, which began at 10:15 a.m., included 22 undocumented immigrant women, the largest number ever to willingly submit to arrest, according to organizers from We Belong Together: Women for Common Sense Immigration Campaign.
“Immigration reform is a central part of that equality that we fight for [for] women,” said Pramila Jayapal, co-chairwoman of the campaign and the executive director of OneAmerica.
Cabs, trucks and SUVs honked at the human barricade provided by organizers from CASA de Maryland, who sported neon-orange safety vests.
“There’s mom,” said Kyara Lopez, 12, of Chicago, pointing from the curb for her sister Paulina, 9, to look at the west side of the circle.
Lopez, one of many children watching from the sidewalk, said she was nervous for the arrests. Asked why her mom was protesting, she said, “She’s there for all the other moms that are being separated from their children. She’s there to send her point about the immigration reform.”
Capitol Police slipped plastic cuffs around the wrists of women and escorted them to paddy wagons, parked with lights flashing, in front of Longworth. By 10:50 a.m., about 25 pairs of women and officers had formed a line in front of the vehicles.
Protesters in the diminished circle continued to chant “Si se puede” and “Yes we can!”
Protesters came from more than 20 states, representing a coalition of immigrant rights groups, labor, education, faith and LGBTQ organizations.
Leisha Carrasquillo, who came from Charlotte, N.C., where she leads the Latin American Coalition, demonstrated on behalf of her husband.
“I am a U.S. citizen married to an undocumented immigrant who has been in [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody for the past 75 days,” Carrasquillo said. Her husband, a painter, was arrested in North Carolina for driving without a license and transported to a detention facility in Georgia. “Imagine your loved one being locked up for months, away from family and work,” she said.
Carrasquillo is a mother of three children, and grandmother to an infant.
After the civil disobedience, a delegation of children planned to deliver red, heart-shaped cookies — “hearts of courage,” Jayapal said — to House leadership and members whose votes they hoped to influence. In addition, they planned to deliver more than 6,000 signed petitions from women and children across the country.
Specific legislative demands listed in literature distributed by the coalition include: a road map to citizenship with no unreasonable fees and fines; an immigration system that preserves family immigration categories; an employment visa system that encourages the future flows in professions populated by women; and protections for asylum-seekers and victims of human trafficking. In deportation trials they want to ensure due process, the protection of parental rights, expanded access to legal counsel and alternatives to detention.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., addressed the coalition during a news conference before the disobedience and thanked the activists for coming to Capitol Hill. She was the only lawmaker present.
Lofgren gave reporters her insight on the status of immigration legislation: “We knew that we would not have action in September because of the fiscal year ending on Oct. 1, so we understand that, but we need some commitments from the Republican leadership about moving forward on sensible reform.”
Lofgren is a member of the bipartisan group of seven House members working together on immigration. She said the group has drafted their bill “and really we need to see whether it can be introduced.”
Lofgren rejected the idea that the House might have too much on its plate to take up an immigration overhaul.
“No,” she said. “We have the capacity to do more than one thing at a time. This is doable; the question is when will it be done.”