Among the activists were leaders from a range of immigration groups and unions including the United Farm Workers and AFL-CIO.
After marching by the Capitol, the activists joined hands and sat down on Independence Avenue, a major street that runs through the congressional complex, displaying a banner demanding “Immigration Reform Now!”
Police officers handcuffed them and led them away. Capitol Police said in a statement that the activists were being processed on charges of blocking passage.
The march came as Congress prepares to leave Washington for a five-week summer recess without House action on immigration legislation. Advocates promised that Thursday’s action was a taste of things to come as they aim to keep up the pressure throughout August on the House’s GOP majority.
“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 America’s Voice, who was among those arrested.
Several Democratic lawmakers joined the marchers but did not participate in the civil disobedience. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., promised: “What is happening today is going to be repeated around the country.”
Numerous chants and signs displayed by protesters sought to direct political pressure at the House GOP. “GOP, do you want our vote?” asked one banner. “Republicans, remember, we’re voting in November,” protesters chanted.
Immigration legislation is in limbo in the House after the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a far-reaching bill in June that included billions for border security, new workplace enforcement requirements, a revamped legal immigration system and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
Many House Republicans are opposed to granting citizenship to people who crossed the border illegally or overstayed their visas to be in this country. GOP leaders have rejected the Senate-passed bill and said that the House will proceed with narrow, single-issue bills, starting with border security.
But that process may not begin until October, and it’s uncertain whether the House will ever get to the point of entering negotiations with the Senate on final legislation that could get to President Barack Obama’s desk.
Advocates believe the August recess could be critical in marshaling public opinion in favor of an immigration overhaul, and various groups on the side of reform – from business to labor to evangelicals – are making plans to reach dozens of House Republicans in their home districts. Those opposed also intend to make their voices heard, although their coalition is smaller.