Calls to keep families together and for progress on immigration reform burst into public Thursday near the U.S. House of Representatives, as dozens of community leaders and activists brought signs, songs and chants to an act of civil disobedience in support of citizenship.
More than 40 community leaders from faith, labor and immigration groups were arrested during the rally in which participants blocked traffic at the intersection of First Street and Independence Avenue Southeast, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and other organizations said.
“This summer, thousands of immigrant families face separation, deportation and alienation,” Angelica Salas, CHIRLA executive director who was arrested, said in a statement.
“While this summer, members of Congress seek family, peace, tranquility, vacation, our community will enjoy none of it unless immigration laws change. In the absence of justice and a path to citizenship, this will not be a regular summer for us nor the Members of Congress.”
While the Senate has approved a single immigration reform bill, lawmakers in the House have yet to vote on any immigration bill. Instead of one comprehensive immigration bill, U.S. representatives are considering several pieces of legislation to address what many people consider to be a “broken” system.
The Senate version of the comprehensive immigration bill includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
In the House, the idea to increase security along the U.S.-Mexico border is receiving much attention and there is the idea among U.S. representatives of permitting citizenship status to only some undocumented youth.
Immigration advocates have voiced strong concern about that because, they say, it will hurt families.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested the protesters, as other grassroots activists stood on streets nearby with colorful signs, according to images posted on Twitter and distributed by community groups.
Some protesters sat in the street with a red-and-white banner that said: “Keep Families Together.”
The Campaign for Community Change issued a statement Thursday that started with these two sentences: “Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Campaign for Community Change, is in jail. Kica Matos, CCC’s director of racial justice and immigrant rights, is in jail.”
The campaign said that the moment for civil disobedience was right, as compared to holding a press conference to raise awareness.
“The stakes are too high and the choice is too stark: Either safety or heartbreak for millions of families across America who live every moment in fear that they could be torn apart through deportation,” the campaign said in a statement.
“Today, we directly confronted elected leaders for embracing the status quo over the will of the American people who want a comprehensive fix for our current broken, immoral, and unjust immigration system,” Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work, said in a statement. “Delay and compromise is not an option.”
Her organization, which says it helps working people in the country, reported that she was arrested.
Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona, a grassroots group that helps immigrants, also protested. Police officers arrested her, according to her office.
“Congress must lead on this issue or nothing will change for the millions of immigrants,” Falcon, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Risking arrest in a show of civil disobedience is the very least we can do for the immigrants who work in our midst everyday helping to make this a better country.”
Gamaliel, a network of nonpartisan faith groups, reported that among those arrested was a Baptist pastor and a Catholic immigration oranizer.
“Being an African-American Republican in Kansas isn’t easy. Neither is getting arrested or following the Golden Rule,” Rev. Bobby Love said in a statement.
“But standing with my immigrant brothers and sisters is easy. My faith tells me that this is right. We are putting our bodies on the line today to urge Congress to show some backbone. This is not partisan. It’s a simple matter of loving justice and showing mercy.”
Jesusa Rivera of Indiana also lent his support in the protest: “Crossing the street does not take as much courage as crossing the desert. But we are going to show a bit of courage today and we hope Congress will follow our example.”
“I left my two daughters at home to participate in this action because everyday parents are being taken from their children. I know I will see my girls soon, but many immigrant parents don’t know when they will be able to see their children again,” she said in a statement.
Leaders from the National Immigration Law Center, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Fourm, AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America and Service Employees International Union also rallied outside of Congress.
Grassroots community groups that support immigration reform said the Thursday event would be one of several that will take place this month to raise concerns. Many activists have dubbed this public push as “40 Days of Prayer and Action.”
Organizations have posted more photos of the Thursday civil disobedience on Twitter under #timeisnow.
Last month, immigration and community groups along the U.S.-Mexico border held rallies to voice concerns about the “militarization” of the area. Lawmakers are considering adding thousands of more federal agents and observation equipment to the area, as part of an immigration reform package.