More than 100 female immigrant-rights activists were arrested after they shut down Independence Avenue in front of the Capitol on Thursday, demanding that Congress pass a legalization bill.
Organizers said 104 women, including more than 20 who are in the country illegally, were arrested, in the second major act of civil disobedience this year to shut down the main thoroughfare alongside the U.S. Capitol.
The arrests are also a key test of President Obama’s policies promising not to deport illegal immigrants who don’t have major criminal records.
Capitol Police were still processing the activists late Thursday evening and a spokesman said they run everyone they arrest through their databases and share information with other law enforcement agencies. They didn’t know whether the illegal immigrants would be held for immigration agents.
The activists were trying to keep pressure on Congress, where momentum for an immigration bill has stalled amid other thorny legislative business such as potential attacks on Syria and dealing with the annual spending bills.
Patty Kupfer, managing director of activist group America’s Voice, said she was proud to be one of those arrested.
“Today’s action is about women and how they bear a tremendous burden trying to keep their families together when faced with deportation,” she said.
Among those risking arrest were mothers who are here illegally, and whose children have been granted tentative legal status under the president’s non-deportation policy for young illegal immigrants.
Even as the protests were going on in the street, inside of one of the House office buildings members of Congress were pressing for Republican leaders to take up legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants.
“Our nation can only be strengthened and reinvigorated by these hard-working individuals who have come to our country asking only to be allowed to succeed by their own efforts, a prospect that immigration reform will bring to them,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and member of the board of directors of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, which sponsored the news conference.
The Senate earlier this year passed a bipartisan bill, 68-32, that gave illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship and would also spend tens of billions of dollars to hire agents to patrol the southwest border.
But House Republicans have taken a slower approach.
Two committees have cleared bills boosting border security, revamping guest-worker programs and imposing a new mandatory electronic verification system for employers to check workers’ legal status. But none of those bills would legalize the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. right now.
And it’s uncertain whether any of the bills will ever make it to the House floor. Republican lawmakers have said the window for action is closing, with the end of the year looming and issues surrounding the Syrian civil war, spending bills and the government’s debt limit all taking precedence.
The activists protesting outside the Capitol, though, said they won’t accept any excuses. They said their goal is to demonstrate that deportations split families apart and hurt women.
“Women have fought for centuries to be recognized, to have the right to vote, to work and be paid for it, to realize their full potential. We must continue to fight for millions of immigrant women to get that same recognition,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “I am proud to stand with them and demand that the House pass immigration reform that treats women fairly.”