Nearly 200 protesters were arrested Wednesday on the steps of the U.S. Capitol after thousands gathered to demand legislation protecting young, undocumented immigrants whose work permits are being revoked by the Trump administration.
Those arrested after refusing to disperse included at least two lawmakers from Montgomery County: County Council President Hans Riemer (D-At Large) and state Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez (D-Montgomery). State Del. Jimmy Tarlau (D-Prince George's) and Mount Rainier Councilwoman Celina Benitez were also arrested.
Coordinated by local and national immigrant rights groups, the protest was the latest effort to pressure U.S. lawmakers to find a way to replace Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that allowed some 690,000 immigrants brought to this country as children to receive two-year renewal work permits and shielded them from deportation.
The work permits will expire starting March 5.
In the House and Senate, at least four pieces of legislation have been proposed that could protect the "dreamers" from deportation and allow them to remain in this country permanently. But lawmakers are divided over tactics and substance, including whether to include tougher border protection and other enforcement as part of any bill that is approved. An unprecedented 35 members of the House GOP caucus spoke out Tuesday to urge legislative action by the end of the year.
Hoisting signs, raising their fists and chanting in unison, demonstrators on Wednesday denounced President Trump’s immigration policies and Congress’s sluggishness in addressing the DACA repeal.
Speakers — including DACA recipients, members of Congress and community leaders — called on lawmakers to reject what they called the administration’s hostility to immigrant groups. Riemer said it was an urgent local issue because of the thousands of DACA recipients who live in Montgomery, Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction.
“There’s a lot of people living in Montgomery County who really couldn’t join the protest or get arrested for fear of their status,” Riemer said. “I felt like those of us who can be arrested without fear of deportation need to stand up and have a voice for people.”
Karina Ruiz, 33, traveled from Phoenix to join the rally. Ruiz emigrated from Mexico City in 1999 at age 15 and has since had three children, all of them American citizens born in the United States.
The day after Trump’s election, Ruiz said, her children — ages 5 to 15 — asked her whether she was going to be sent back to Mexico. Her DACA status expires in one year.
“They’re at an age when they still need me,” Ruiz said.
Members of Congress who spoke included Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) — both of whom were arrested around 2 p.m. — as well as Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).
Event organizers said they arranged with U.S. Capitol Police in advance that the roughly 200 protesters who refused to leave the Capitol steps would not be detained but would pay a $50 fee.
Although protesters focused mostly on protecting DACA recipients and other immigrants with temporary protected status that could be revoked by the administration, they also used the moment to call attention to other administration policies they say discriminate against immigrants and refugees.
Specifically, demonstrators decried Trump's travel ban — which the Supreme Court said this week could be fully enforced while legal challenges continue — and policies restricting the number of refugees who can enter the United States.
“History is going to judge us on this issue,” Harris yelled to the crowd. “History will judge where you stood at this moment in time.”