House Democrats Arrested In Immigration Reform Protest

10/08/2013 06:06 pm ET | Updated Oct 08, 2013
  • Elise Foley Immigration And Politics Reporter, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- Eight Democratic members of Congress joined with activists on Tuesday to block a street in view of the Capitol, an attempt to reignite immigration reform efforts that have stalled out in the House.

Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Al Green (D-Texas), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) participated in the protest. More than 200 people were arrested in total, including faith leaders, members of advocacy groups and other activists.

After an hours-long rally on the National Mall -- which organizers said was allowed despite the shutdown because of First Amendment claims -- advocates and members of Congress walked to the west lawn of the Capitol and flooded the street, surrounding a tour bus and blocking traffic. When police asked them to leave, they didn't, and they eventually were led off, to cheers from the crowd.

The protest came after more than 160 rallies for immigration reform were held across the country on Saturday, and slightly less than a week after House Democrats introduced their own immigration bill based on two pieces of bipartisan legislation: one from the Senate and one approved by the House Homeland Security Committee.

But the action also came during a government shutdown and a brewing fight over raising the debt limit -- and after months of House Republican leadership firmly stating that they will not hold a vote on the Senate immigration bill or anything else that a majority of GOP members oppose.

Activists and pro-reform members of Congress said the rally and civil disobedience were meant to show House Republicans that the pressure for an immigration bill will not cease. Gutierrez told advocates at the rally of thousands on the National Mall that they must "turn up the volume even more."

"Since the election last November, the United States has deported another 400,000 people," he said. "We know the enormous toll it takes on our families, our neighborhoods and our peace of mind. Our communities and our families do not have the luxury to rest or relax. One thousand, one hundred people will be deported today; 1,100 people will be deported tomorrow, and the next day."

Several Republicans turned out for the rally as well. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a long-time supporter of reform and the only GOP member of a bipartisan working group on immigration who didn't quit, appeared on stage, along with Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). They did not participate in the protest later in the afternoon.

Some of the arrestees on Tuesday have participated in similar actions before. Gutierrez was arrested in 2011 for protesting deportations at the White House, and advocate Frank Sharry from the group America's Voice was arrested during a protest near the Capitol in August.

But others were acting in civil disobedience for the first time. Jason Kimelman-Block, the rabbi-in-residence for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, said he'd never done anything like the protest before, but that it was important to him to join in this time.

"My grandfather was a prisoner of war and my father was a prison administrator, and the idea of doing that is not something I was raised to do -- but I am doing it," Kimelman-Block said before the protest. "The purpose of it is to show how important this issue is. We're going to do whatever we can to get the issue of immigration reform back on the agenda."

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