After several thousand people rallied for immigration reform in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, more than 100 activists were arrested outside of the Capitol during a protest to push the House to vote on immigration legislation. Those arrested for refusing to move out of the street included eight Democratic members of Congress: Reps. John Lewis (GA), Luis Gutiérrez (IL), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Keith Ellison (MN), Joseph Crowley (NY), Charles Rangel (NY), Al Green (TX), and Jan Schakowsky (IL).
The House members who were arrested marched from a rally on the National Mall to a street in front of the Capitol with their fellow protesters. The rally’s massive crowd followed and packed both sides of First Street to witness the civil disobedience. Prior to the protest and their arrests, Gutierrez told the rally crowd that it will take both Democrats and Republicans to pass immigration reform and fix immigration policies that are hurting communities. “We know the enormous toll it takes on our families, our neighborhoods and our peace of mind,” Gutierrez said. And Lewis, a civil rights movement icon who helped lead the March on Washington in 1963, said there are those who want them to wait on immigration reform but that it’s needed now. “I’ve been arrested a few times, and I don’t mind getting arrested again for something that is right and fair and just,” Lewis said. It was his 45th arrest.
Ahead of the arrests, thousands gathered for a rally led by the popular band, Los Tigres del Norte. Despite the government shutdown, the National Park Service allowed the rally to take place on the Mall as long-planned on First Amendment grounds. The rally followed more than 160 state actions pushing for Congress to act on immigration reform. At the D.C. event, many in the crowd carried American flags and signs demanding a path to citizenship while listening to speeches between the band’s songs. One rally-goer said she was optimistic about the chances that the Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform. “My hope comes from unity,” said Diana Salazar, who traveled from South Carolina for the rally. “The census numbers woke up a lot of people in many states and small towns. There are too many of us now. They can’t just put us on a bus and send us all back.”
In addition to the members who spoke to the crowd before being arrested, several lawmakers from both parties took turns on the stage. “Let’s be clear: this is not the first rally we’ve been to over the years,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). He was joined by other House Republicans who have also publicly pushed for immigration reform. He told the crowd that there has been a lot of talk and promises about immigration reform. “Both political parties have had the chance to solve it, neither have, it’s about time we get it done this year,” Diaz-Balart said. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) pushed for House leadership to allow a vote on immigration legislation. She told the crowd that the blood of immigrants flows through all of their veins and said that “the time is now for our country to live up to the best traditions of liberty and justice for all.”
And the rally also served as a reminder of the personal toll of our nation’s broken immigration system. Along with Los Tigres del Norte—who sang about families divided by the U.S.-Mexico border—the Mexican-American singer Lila Downs joined the rally to demand immigration reform. Downs asked the crowd, “How long do we wait to do the right thing?” One speaker from CASA de Maryland said her nephew was deported even though he qualified for deferred action, leaving behind a wife and U.S. citizen child. She told the crowd that her nephew decided five months ago to cross the border illegally to rejoin them, but they have not heard from him since that time. And a 9-year-old named Steven explained how his dad had been deported and his uncle was in deportation proceedings. “I want Congress to stop separating my family,” Steven said.
Photo Courtesy of the SEIU.