Washington (AFP) – Eight members of Congress were among several dozen people arrested Tuesday as thousands of protesters converged on the U.S. capital to demand immigration reform.
The event resulted in a call by the White House for lawmakers to bridge their differences and “fix our broken immigration system” by allowing stalled legislation to move through the House of Representatives.
Police led away several protesters in plastic handcuffs after the marchers blocked a street at the foot of the U.S. Capitol which houses Congress.
Organizers for the “Rally and March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect” said around 10,000 people turned out for the protest.
Protesters called for Congress to approve a swift overhaul of immigration laws which would enable 11 million undocumented workers to come out of the shadows and start a 13-year journey to citizenship.
The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate in June passed the most comprehensive immigration bill in a generation, with bipartisan support. But the Republican-dominated House is drawing up its own piecemeal reforms instead of an overarching bill.
Many Republicans consider the Senate bill too lax, and there is opposition within the party to the pathway to citizenship as laid out in the Senate legislation.
Last week, Democrats introduced their own separate bill, a comprehensive measure aimed at keeping the pressure on Republicans to move forward.
The protest was largely overshadowed by the political stalemate on Capitol Hill which has kept parts of the federal government shut down for the past week, and sent the U.S. economy careening towards a possible first-ever debt default if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by October 17.
But White House spokesman Jay Carney said the concern over immigration should serve to spur lawmakers into action.
“It’s time for the House of Representatives to reopen the government, pay their bills, and get back to the important work of moving the economy forward,” Carney said in a statement. “It is time for House Republicans to put politics aside and join Democrats to fix our broken immigration system and make the economy stronger.”
Democratic congressman Luis Gutierrez was among those arrested in Tuesday’s symbolic act of civil disobedience, and like Carney he blamed House Republicans for blocking reform.
“There are 30 or 40 Republicans — some estimate as many as 85 Republicans in Congress — who support legalization and immigration reform in some form,” Gutierrez said.
“They know the power of our vote, they know the popularity of immigration reform, they know the hunger and passion in our community, and yet we still have not seen immigration reform signed into law by the president because other Republicans are holding it up.”
Other lawmakers detained included civil rights pioneer John Lewis and reform advocate Raul Grijalva.
Many protesters waved American flags or held pro-reform banners and signs. One man wore a black T-shirt which read “I could be illegal.”
The event followed a nationwide series of protests Saturday in some 160 cities.