Three illegal immigrants were arrested Monday after they conducted a sit-in at the offices of two Democratic House members, according to activist groups that organized the protest.
As of late afternoon, the immigrants who were protesting in Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s office had been arrested, but three others who were in Rep. Xavier Becerra’s office had not been arrested, according to Luis Serrano, with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.
The protests and arrests mark an escalation of immigration rights activists. Without a legalization bill from Congress, they are asking Democrats on Capitol Hill to pressure President Obama to take unilateral action.
“Becerra, stop helping Obama to deport our community,” one of the protesters said in a video from the office before the group started chanting, in unison, “Not one more!”
In addition to the sit-ins, activists are staging a continuous vigil outside the White House, conducting a two-day fast on the Mall and demonstrating outside congressional district offices in an attempt to pressure both sides of the debate.
The activists said neither Ms. Sanchez nor Mr. Becerra has officially called for a halt to most deportations — the goal of the immigration advocates. The activists also want the two members of Congress to more aggressively work to stop deportations in cases involving family members of their own constituents.
Mr. Becerra said he appreciated the passion of the immigrants — particularly given what’s at stake for them and their families.
“This is what democracy at its purest looks like. I, too, have had opportunities to participate in demonstrations, but one big difference does not escape me: I never had to fear being separated from my family for fighting for my cause,” he said in a statement.
But he stopped short of calling for the deportation halt that the activists were seeking. He said the solution is for Congress to pass a bill.
“For America’s families, our economy and our workers, it’s time for the House to vote and pass commonsense immigration reform,” Mr. Becerra said.
Ms. Sanchez said she will be meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson this week to talk about his deportation policies and encourage him to use more discretion to let immigrants stay.
“As a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I continue to put pressure on the administration to make the most compassionate choices based upon our shared American values,” she said. “The law is the law, but there is a difference between a violent felon and a mother who filled out her paperwork incorrectly. We should not needlessly separate families.”
Mr. Obama has carved out a number of illegal immigrant groups he says his administration will ignore when it comes to deportations. Foremost are young adults who came to the U.S. as children, whom the president in 2012 granted tentative legal status and work permits.
Advocates want that program expanded to include those immigrants’ parents and other family members.