In the midst of the federal government shutdown, immigration reform activists continued to rally behind their cause Tuesday during a protest on the National Mall, where approximately 200 participants were arrested.
Among those arrested were eight Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, a group that supports Latino immigrants and advocates for reform. U.S. Capitol Police officers stationed in front of the Capitol arrested those who would not clear out of the way when asked, The Washington Post reported.
The rally was organized by the Center for Community Change and the Service Employees International Union to call the House of Representatives to action on immigration reform. As some in the crowd of 10,000 chanted “Si se puede!” (Yes we can!), others shouted, “Congress, remember, we’re voting in November!”
After months of delaying, House Democrats introduced several pieces of immigration reform legislation on Oct. 2 that were largely based on a Senate bill passed in June. The Senate bill would revamp the immigration system and allow undocumented immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship within 13 years. The House, however, has segmented the legislation into separate bills that each addresses smaller issues.
CASA de Maryland representative Lydia Walther Rodriguez, who participated in the rally, said that she was confident in the movement’s power.
“Congress is still inside, so they’re still working. They still need to know that we’re here and there’s a lot of us,” Rodriguez said. “Make a decision now. Don’t wait any longer.”
Georgetown Assistant Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming, however, said that the government shutdown has drawn the nation’s attention away from immigration reform.
“The debt ceiling is also such a major impact on the United States as well as the world economy that that is the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, if you will, that has got to be dealt with,” Fleming said. “It remains my hope that once we get beyond the hope that once we get beyond the current government shutdown and beyond the impending subject of the debt ceiling, there will be a refocused attention on immigration reform.”
Fleming said that two particular provisions of the immigration bill, the DREAM Act and the H1B Visa provisions, would directly affect students.
“I know a good number of the Dreamers on our campus,” Fleming said. “They are amazing individuals. They have overcome incredible odds to get to where they are.”
Tuesday’s rally represented a unification of immigration reform allies and those who would be affected by the new immigration laws. Protester Nelson Mendoza, who is originally from El Salvador, emphasized the importance of presenting a united front.
“We have to support them even if we are legal. We have to give them a hand to ask Congress to pass the law,” Mendoza said. “They are not criminals. … They are just coming to work and do the best that they can to support their family here and their family in their countries.”
Protester Alisa Leucero is a Dreamer who was granted amnesty under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and graduated from a New York high school this June.
“We want them to remember that we are here and to not forget that we want reform,” Leucero said. “Sometimes, it seems like they are putting Obamacare and Syria and things like that first but forgetting about us.”
Many Catholic organizations, including Georgetown, have supported the cause of immigration reform. University President John J. DeGioia signed a letter to Congress this summer along with presidents of other Catholic universities pushing for immigration reform. DeGioia also previously made a number of personal phone calls to several members of Congress, encouraging senators to vote for the DREAM Act.
“It goes to our mission and our sense of social justice that is inherent here at Georgetown and at other Catholic colleges and universities,” Fleming said.
In support of this movement, Fleming’s office has compiled a video interview project, highlighting the stories of students at Georgetown who have been affected by the DREAM Act. The final interview was completed Monday, and the videos will be posted on the Office of Federal Relations’ Web page in the near future.
“If a member of Congress sees a real face on a story, it turns it from statistics into people,” Fleming said. “It is my feeling that when members of Congress — who either are undecided or opposed to the DREAM Act — see these stories, it will make them think again.”