Among those arrested were several lawmakers, including Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Gustavo Torres, head of Casa de Maryland, immigration lawyers, priests and labor activists also were taken into custody. The protesters were charged with “crowding, obstructing and incommoding,” a spokesman for the Capitol Police said.
An immigration bill is stuck in the House, and its prospects have dwindled as lawmakers are preoccupied with the government shutdown and budget talks. The rally’s organizers hoped to ramp up pressure to bring the measure to a vote.
Organizers predicted that tens of thousands of people would attend the “Camino Americano: March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect” rally, featuring performances by popular Latino musicians and speeches by members of Congress as well as civil rights, religious and community leaders. But the crowd was considerably smaller, and grew even smaller after a popular singing group finished its performance.
Many who came waved handheld American flags, an image that also adorned placards identifying unions beside slogans such as “The time is now” and “Justice and dignity.” The deep thrum of a drum punctuated the speeches, and many in the crowd chanted, “Si, se puede!” — or “Yes, we can!”
“I believe immigrant rights are human rights,” said civil rights icon Julian Bond, among the first to speak. “Immigration reform must come. It will come.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emphasized that “the full diversity” of Democrats in the House supports the immigration measure she introduced last week, and she presented leaders of the African American, Asian and Latino caucuses.
“The blood of immigrants flows through all our veins,” she said.
Proclaiming an overhaul of immigration policy good for the economy, she predicted it would help reduce the deficit in decades to come.
Immigration advocates have declared October a month of escalating pressure for a comprehensive immigration bill. They say they fear that momentum has stalled since June when the Senate approved a sweeping, bipartisan plan that features a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The Republican-controlled House has not voted on that bill, and GOP leaders have said they are pursuing a series of smaller-scale bills focused primarily on increased border security and workplace visas.
Proponents of the bill are concerned that the government shutdown and bitter fight between Congress and the White House over the budget and debt ceiling will leave little time for lawmakers to focus on immigration, though some Republicans have vowed to take up the issue later this month.