Dozens arrested in pro-immigration protest at U.S. Capitol

Franco Ordonez,Kevin Thibodeaux

Dozens of leaders in the immigration movement were arrested Thursday after they blocked a major intersection near the Capitol in a protest of Republican opposition to an immigration overhaul that would include a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally.

More than 40 leaders were taken into custody after they walked onto Independence Avenue and locked arms, chanting in Spanish “Si, se puede” – “Yes, we can.” Another, smaller group of activists were arrested later in the afternoon after they blocked the hallway outside the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

As members of Congress prepared to leave Washington for a long summer recess, organizers said they wanted to send the “strongest message possible” to Republican leaders in the House of Representatives that they’re dissatisfied with progress on immigration and they’ll continue to fight for a comprehensive overhaul that includes a path to citizenship.

“We have to turn up the heat,” Jess George, the executive director of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, N.C., said minutes before she was arrested. “We have to let the House of Representatives know that America deserves a vote on citizenship. The vast majority of Americans want this. It’s democracy, and we need to make (House leaders) pay attention.”

An immigration overhaul remains in doubt despite the Senate passing its own comprehensive bill. Boehner has said he has no intentions of taking up the Senate bill. The House favors a more piecemeal approach focused on separate provisions that, among other things, address border security and measures to help children who were brought to the country illegally.

Boehner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Those arrested in the morning action include church leaders, advocates and union representatives, people such as Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, and Frank Sharry of America’s Voice. They were charged with blocking passage and held for several hours before being released in the afternoon. George was released just after 5 p.m.

The civil disobedience action was the first in an escalated push this summer and fall to convince House leaders to bring a bill to the floor for a vote.

Armando Minjarez, an activist with the Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, Kan., said the community shouldn’t be expected to wait any longer for comprehensive legislation.

“I’m tired of living in fear that my family might be separated, that my mother is going to be deported,” he said. “We’re tired of being used as political currency for political motives. It’s time for the House to take action today.”

Around 3:40 p.m., 15 people were arrested outside Boehner’s office after staging a sit-in.

"Boehner, escucha: Estamos in la lucha" – "Boehner, listen: We are in the fight," they and supporters chanted as police made their arrests.

On her shirt, Whitney Smith, 31, of Charlotte wrote the names of 47 North Carolina family members who have loved ones currently in deportation proceedings.

“Right now the ball is in his court,” she said before being arrested. “We’re not going to sit here and allow him to drag his feet on this. I’m a white middle-class woman from North Carolina and I support this. He needs to know that we all support fixing our immigration system.”

Video: Protestors at the Capitol

By Franco Ordonez and Kevin Thibodeaux
McClatchy Washington Bureau