Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal was among nearly 575 women arrested Thursday during a sit-in on Capitol Hill, as part of what organizers called a “mass act of disobedience” to show their frustration with the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“I'm proud to have been arrested with them, to put myself in the camp of people who believe that the United States of America is better,” Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, said in a video posted on Twitter after her arrest.
The Women’s March and the Center for Popular Democracy Action organized the day’s events, which began with a march from Freedom Plaza to the Justice Department and then to Capitol Hill.
Protests have broken out across the country against President Donald Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the southern border. Trump signed an executive order last week that keeps detained parents and children together.
Watch: Hundreds Hold Sit-In for Immigration at Senate Building
Over a thousand women marched Thursday from Freedom Plaza to the DOJ, where members of Congress, including California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, spoke.Protesters chanted slogans on their way to the Capitol, including, “No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here.” The entrances to the Hart and Dirksen Senate office buildings were soon flooded by the women filing through the metal detectors. In the Hart atrium, they chanted, “We Care,” and sat on the ground, draped in tinfoil blankets, similar to the ones given to the children at immigration detention centers.
Capitol Police showed up at the Hart building shortly after the sit-in began, and proceeded to arrest and process demonstrators in groups of 25.
Both first-time and seasoned protestors participated in the march, with more than 47 different states represented, according Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy.
“It was very important that women, as the people that have been leading the resistance to the Trump regime, take a bold action of escalation of pressure together,” she said.
For Ingrid Zelaya, who works in communications at the immigrant advocacy group CASA, this was not her first protest, but it was her first act of civil disobedience. “I think that risking arrest is just a way of using our bodies as our voice,” she said. Participants who registered with the official organizers to get arrested had to undergo training to learn how to carry out nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. And organizers hope they will pass on that knowledge to activists in their own home states.
“Those people … are going to be seeds of disobedience in a moment of when we need to disobey,” Archila said.
The women arrested Thursday were processed at the Senate buildings and some were still in custody at 7 p.m., Eastern time, Thursday. They have to come back within 15 days to pay the $50 fee, according to two protestors who were released.
Organizers said marches or rallies were not sufficient to show their outrage at the administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy that brings criminal charges against all adults who enter the United States illegally.
Their three main demands from the government: abolish the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, end the practice of detention centers and the zero tolerance policy.
After a recent visit to the southern border, Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said he would be introducing legislation to “abolish ICE and crack down on the agency’s blanket directive to target and round up individuals and families.”
Activist groups have planned bigger protests for Saturday, with “Families Belong Together” rallies expected in Washington and other cities across the country and the world.
Linda Sarsour, a co-founder of the Women’s March, said she hoped the protests, apart from sending a message to the administration and Congress, would mobilize people to vote in the midterms.
“We believe that women voters are going to commit to going to the polls and make sure that we win back the House and the Senate this year,” she said.