Drivers who decided to take Independence Avenue in the nation's capital today should've opted for a different route. The street, which runs through the congressional complex in Washington, D.C., was blocked by pro-immigrant protestors who rallied in support of comprehensive immigration legislation, waving banners demanding "Immigration Reform Now!" and lying down in the street, making it impassable to traffic. Among the activists were members of the United Farm Workers and the AFL-CIO, two of the nation's largest unions, according to the Washington Post. 41 activists were arrested in the marches for what Capitol Police said were charges of blocking passage. Click play below to watch a clip of protestors outside the Capitol (courtesy of Ted Hesson).
"When you want policymakers to see the light, sometimes you've got to raise the heat, and that's what we're doing today," said Frank Sharry, executive director of pro-immigrant group America's Voice. Sharry was among the 41 arrested, according to the Associated Press.
Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform have promised to use Congress' five-week recess in August to turn up the heat on House Republicans who are choosing to pursue a piecemeal, step-by-step approach on the issue. The House has produced several small, one-issue bills which, with the exception of one which would offer citizenship to young undocumented immigrants, reflect the priorities of its most conservative members. Many of those representatives have shown themselves hostile to the idea of granting citizenship - and in some cases, even a simpler legal status - to the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. But lawmakers and lobbyists - a diverse coalition including unions, immigrant advocates, business chambers, and evangelicals - are trying to brand those House Republicans who won't be swayed into a vote for citizenship as "extremists", while trying to pressure other representatives with substantial Hispanic populations in their districts by encouraging Latinos in their constituency to make their voices heard. And some 500,000 petitions are expected to rain down on House members when they return from the recess, calling on them to take action on a comprehensive reform.
"This is the beginning of a long, hot summer for a lot of the representatives," Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, told Voxxi. "Speaker [John] Boehner and Republicans in the House are in for a big surprise during the August recess because we are ready to welcome them when they come home."
Several Democratic lawmakers voiced support for the D.C. protestors. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told the Associated Press, "What is happening today is going to be repeated around the country."
"GOP, do you want our vote?" asked one banner at the protest, the AP reported. Others chanted, "Republicans, remember, we're voting in November.