Activists said that illegal immigrants were arrested while protesting outside of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office on Wednesday in the latest escalation of civil disobedience designed to pressure Congress to legalize them.
In the morning, hundreds of immigrant-rights activists staged a vigil outside of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s home in Washington, setting up a Thanksgiving dinner table which they said highlighted illegal immigrants who are being deported and won’t be with their families during the holiday this year.
After the vigil, activists went to the Capitol complex where 11 of them — some U.S. citizens and some so-called Dreamers, or young illegal immigrants trying to gain full legal status — were arrested for civil disobedience.
One woman who spoke at the vigil outside Mr. Boehner’s house is here illegally and said she was trying to get her deportation halted.
“Next week is Thanksgiving, where families are reuniting to celebrate. Mine possibly will be separated tomorrow,” the women, Ana Canenguez, said in a statement issued by activists. “I don’t want to be separated from my children.”
Mr. Boehner’s office declined to comment on the protest.
Mr. Boehner last week seemed to close the door on chances for an immigration bill to pass this year when he said the House would work on its own timeline and would not enter into negotiations with the Senate, which has passed a single broad bill legalizing illegal immigrants and rewriting the legal immigration system.
House Republicans are instead working on a series of smaller bills, including ones to stiffen immigration enforcement, rewrite guest-worker programs and require tougher border security.
Mr. Cantor is also working on a long-awaited bill, deemed the Kids Act, that would grant legal status to the young illegal immigrants, known as Dreamers, who are considered among the most sympathetic in the immigration debate.
“The leader has repeatedly said he believes children, who know no other country, and are here at no fault of their own, should be able to remain here,” said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Mr. Cantor. “If Democrats end their my-way-or-the-highway approach on immigration reform, it would help get something done towards that end.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that he won’t pass an immigration bill unless it includes a broad pathway to citizenship for most illegal immigrants, which House Republicans have rejected. They say a massive program sounds too much like Obamacare, and they instead want to tackle the issue piece-by-piece.
While Wednesday’s protests focused on House GOP leaders, some activists are increasingly targeting President Obama, who they say is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants.
This week a number of activists chained themselves to a bus in Chicago to try to halt deportations of two high-profile illegal immigrants that the activists say are being separated from their families unfairly.
Immigration authorities counter that the two men were both deported before and snuck back into the U.S., and each have since been convicted of other crimes: One was convicted of fraud, and the other of shoplifting.