- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2013

Seeking to revive the chances for getting an immigration bill done this year, dozens of immigrant-rights activists staged a sit-in and got arrested at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday — and they vowed to repeat the civil disobedience throughout the country the rest of the summer.

The move marks an escalation in the advocates’ push for a bill, saying that while they will continue to write letters and call their members of Congress, they need to do more to prod lawmakers.

“If it takes a million of us to march on Washington, we’ll do that too,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who came out to support those being arrested.

The arrested included leaders of major labor unions and immigration-rights groups, as well as three illegal immigrants who would qualify for the president’s nondeportation policy for those people, known as “Dreamers,” brought to the U.S. by their parents as children.

By late afternoon the demonstrators were being released, after having been charged with blocking passage along Independence Avenue, according to organizers. They face a $50 fine.

But the action underscores the heightened tensions as Congress prepares to leave town for a five-week summer vacation without having cleared a final bill.

Legislation passed the Senate on a bipartisan 68-32 vote in June, but House Republicans missed an informal, self-imposed deadline to act before their summer vacation, and leaders are now signaling that a debate won’t happen until October.

Mr. Gutierrez this week said that means between 40,000 and 50,000 immigrants will be deported while Congress is gone for the summer.

Activists are increasingly pressuring the Obama administration to halt deportations while the debate rages on Capitol Hill, arguing that the current system is so broken that it makes no sense to send folks back to their home countries — particularly if they would be eligible for legal status once a bill does pass in Congress.

Some activists rallied last week in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, calling Mr. Obama “Deporter-in-Chief” for having sent 1.7 million illegal immigrants back home during his tenure.

The administration argues it has tried to only deport immigrants with major criminal records or those who have repeatedly broken immigration laws, and the Homeland Security Department has issued several policies that protect most immigrants from deportation.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Texas threw out a challenge to those policies that had been lodged by immigration agents.

Still, a permanent solution will require action from Congress, and there remains a deep divide between House Republicans who generally oppose giving illegal immigrants a special pathway to citizenship, and Mr. Obama, who says he won’t sign a bill without one.

Fearing momentum slipping away, activists have said they will try to make the cost of inaction too high for all sides by staging more protests and taking the fight back to the home districts and states of members of Congress.

“I think there’s a sense that if there is no ramp-up, there’d be no consequences,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat.

The protests come on the heels of another action in Arizona last week, where nine illegal immigrants crossed into Mexico then tried to regain admittance to the U.S., saying they would qualify for President Obama’s nondeportation policy for Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and are considered the most sympathetic cases in the immigration debate.

Calling themselves the Dream 9, they are being held by immigration authorities and have staged a hunger strike as they await a decision on their fates.

A number of members of Congress have called for the administration to release the activists, highlighting the difficult situation the White House finds itself in.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the Dream 9, but administration officials they are required to hold those who arrive in the country illegally while their cases are reviewed.

While barred from discussing individual cases due to privacy laws, immigration authorities said they try to focus their enforcement on serious criminals and repeat immigration law violators.

The Dream 9 have split the immigrant-rights movement, with some arguing they are muddling the message, while others are cheering them.

“This ties into what Dreamers are trying to do regarding deportations, namely for Obama to stop talking and take real action,” said Cesar Vargas, executive political director at DRM Action Coalition, which advocates for Dreamers. “He has been weak as a leader for the previous term and currently so he needs to step up and ease deportations of families.”

Among the 41 people arrested outside the Capitol Thursday were AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker; radio personality Jose Antonio Castro; Gustaco Torres, executive director of Casa de Maryland; Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America; Frank Sharry, executive director of advocacy group America’s Voice; and Phil Radford, executive director of the environmental group Greenpeace.

“Immigration reform with a path to citizenship is a defining issue for our generation,” Mr. Sharry said in a statement.

He and his fellow protesters blocked the intersection at Independence Avenue and First Street Southeast, sitting down in a well-orchestrated move that police had been alerted to beforehand.

About 200 activists cheered from the sidewalk as the 41 were arrested, with some even chanting the names of their friends and colleagues as they were put into plastic handcuffs and brought to police vans.

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