WASHINGTON — Forty protesters, including union leader Eliseo Medina of SEIU, were arrested Thursday afternoon for blocking passage outside the U.S. Capitol during a demonstration urging the House to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
As they chanted and held up signs saying "GOP, do you want our vote?" approximately 200 protesters from pro-immigrant union and community groups called for the House to take up the Senate bill, which passed June 27.
The Senate legislation would grant 11 million undocumented immigrants immediate legal status and a pathway to citizenship while adding $30 billion for border security. About 40 percent of all undocumented immigrants have overstayed their education, work or tourist visa.
Three undocumented individuals were arrested, including an unidentified DREAM Act activist at potential risk of deportation, according to Campaign for Community Change communications director Donna De La Cruz. The young female activist was brought to the United States as a child, and has not been granted deferred action for childhood arrivals, a policy that began in 2012 to defer deportation of certain individuals for two years.
"Speaker Boehner needs to understand the urgency for reform," said Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Medina in a statement released right after the arrest. "Until the House passes a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship, we will continue to be in the streets, at town hall meetings and on the phones, demanding justice for the 11 million aspiring Americans in our country."
Holding a red banner reading, "Keep Families Together- Immigration Reform Now!" dozens of protesters sat down in the middle of the street, blocking traffic on a major intersection near the House Cannon Office Building. Groups involved included United Farm Workers of America, the AFL-CIO, and the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.
U.S. Capitol Police temporarily closed nearby streets while handcuffing protesters around noon on Thursday, said Lieutenant Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police.
"It's really about House inaction," said Sylvia Ruiz, campaign director for the SEIU's immigrant justice campaign. "Thousands of people are suffering because of our broken system."
During the five-week congressional recess starting next week, activists plan on holding nationwide protests to further push immigration reform.
No action is expected in the House until the fall. House Republicans have roundly criticized the Senate bill as lacking in border security and including an eventual pathway to citizenship they say amounts to amnesty. Instead, they have said they will approach immigration reform through a series of smaller bills beginning with border security.
"Our focus is on getting the policy right, so we fix our immigration system once and for all, and help our economy grow," House Speaker John Boehner said in a July 25 news conference. The House GOP received letters from hundreds of business leaders and party donors on Tuesday urging action on comprehensive immigration reform, saying the existing system cannot respond to the national economy.
"Failure to act is not an option," said a letter from 400 business groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Meat Institute, Google, Facebook and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.