WASHINGTON ― More than 180 people, including two Democratic House members, were arrested Wednesday in an act of civil disobedience on the U.S. Capitol steps, while demanding that lawmakers inside the building take swift action to help young undocumented immigrants.
They were trying to draw attention to the plight of the so-called Dreamers, whom Democrats and Republicans alike have said they wanted to help after President Donald Trump ended the deportation protection program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Even Trump, who frequently disparages undocumented immigrants, has expressed some sympathy.
The difficulty for immigrants and their allies has been to convince lawmakers of the need to act immediately, and specifically to include Dreamer protections in year-end spending measures.
“What do we want? The Dream Act. When do we want it? Now,” protesters chanted, raising fists clad in matching green gloves as U.S. Capitol Police led them away from the steps. Two lawmakers, Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), were arrested along with the advocates.
But inside the Capitol building, the Dreamer issue remained at a standstill. Republican leaders have shown little inclination to do anything for Dreamers immediately, and it’s not clear whether Democrats have the votes to force the issue as part of a government funding bill that must pass by Friday, or in a subsequent bill if Congress approves a two-week funding extension.
Those arrested on Wednesday, the thousands of people who participated in an immigration rally in D.C. before the civil disobedience, and other allies won’t accept a delay until next year, Gutiérrez said.
“There will be no tolerance [for delay],” he told reporters. “That would be an act of betrayal. You can’t do it ― it’s got to be this year.”
Gutiérrez said he’s optimistic. He and 24 other Democratic House members vowed in November to oppose government funding bills if they did not get a fix for Dreamers who will or already have lost DACA protections. One Republican, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, has said the same. Gutiérrez said that on Wednesday afternoon, a member of the Democratic whip team had asked him if he would vote against a two-week funding extension if it didn’t include help for Dreamers ― which Gutiérrez said was a good sign.