(WASHINGTON) — More than a hundred demonstrators intentionally had themselves arrested outside the White House on Thursday in protest against the Obama administration’s response to the sudden surge of illegal immigrants across the border with Mexico.
The act of civil disobedience was organized mostly by religious groups, including the Catholic Sisters of Mercy and the United Methodist Church.
Several hundred additional supporters looked on as the activists staged a sit-in on the sidewalk outside the White House grounds, prompting National Park Service police to remove and arrest them for obstructing foot traffic in a highly choreographed, but peaceful, demonstration.
“We are gathered here to make our voices heard,” the Rev. John McCollough said in a prayer service before the arrests. “We are here to pray for this president, our President Obama, to ask him to lose the bonds of injustice and let the oppressed go free. Si se puede!”
The demonstrators demanded the Obama administration cease the deportation of an estimated 1,100 of those illegal immigrants per day — a number expected to rise as the federal government grapples with the hundreds of thousands believed to have slipped through in the last nine months, and a 106% increase over the same period last year.
Roughly 57,000 are children, many unaccompanied by their parents and fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. The deluge has created a humanitarian crisis in southwestern states as federal and local authorities struggle under the load.
“You know religion, in all its diversity, is really not about what we believe. Religion — real religion — is about what our beliefs compel us to do,” Sister Eileen Campbell of the Sisters of Mercy said from the podium. “How they make us live our lives. Our faith compels us to do all that we can for those that are suffering the injustices of our current immigration policies and to do all we can to move those policies toward justice.”
The White House announced last week it was considering a pilot program, based in Honduras, which would allow children of that country to apply for refugee status rather than risk dangerous northward smuggling across thousands of miles. But while there is bipartisan agreement in Washington that the situation is spiraling out of control, a concrete path forward has been less than clear.
The Senate voted Wednesday to move a bill forward that would allocate $2.7 billion in funding for the crisis. Eleven Republicans joined with the Democratic majority to pass the bill, though at least $840 million has been earmarked for wholly unrelated projects, including Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
It is $1 billion less than President Obama had asked for and a package being considered in the GOP-controlled House is much smaller: $659 million. With Congress’ August recess approaching and political jockeying in full steam, ahead of the November midterm elections, a short-term solution may be out of reach.
Acts of civil disobedience outside the White House are not unusual and several groups present Thursday have histories of such, but the size of Thursday’s arrest is more rare. Protesters taken into custody are typically transferred to the city’s metropolitan police for processing and released after.
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Ali Larkin, CNN
Christopher Dawson, CNN
David Wright, CNN
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN