Police arrest 575 at Capitol Hill immigration protests

By Holly Honderich, Medill News Service, and Sommer Brokaw  |  June 28, 2018 at 7:32 PM
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June 28 (UPI) -- WASHINGTON -- Police arrested 575 women staging a sit-in at the Senate office building Thursday demanding an end to the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy toward undocumented immigrants.

The protest there and at the Justice Department was part of a day of civil disobedience organized by Women's March members leading up to a larger rally planned by them and other groups Saturday.

Some 1,000 protesters circled the Department of Justice as they chanted "DOJ Disobey" and "We Care." They paused for a moment of silence for the migrant children they said were unaccounted for.

Political and public outcry against the administration's policy of separating parents from children upon arrest prompted President Donald Trump to sign an executive order last week saying parents and children would be kept together in detention. Administration officials have offered different explanations for how the policy was being implemented, and how and when all approximately 2,300 children would be reunited with parents.

The executive order has "been signed but what are the actions that are being taken?" said Diane Dresdner, 60, who drove from Northern Virginia to help direct the protesters. "They're separating parents from children, they're also separating brothers from sisters and young siblings from older siblings. That's horrific. Horrific."

Laura Divito of Long Island, N.Y., said, "I don't believe anything that this particular president is saying and that's because of his history of constant lying."

"I don't know what kind of country I'm living in anymore because this is not the America that I know," she said. "What America has become is not the America I grew up with."

For others, however, the Trump administration's policies served to highlight an existing problem.

"Everyone keeps saying, 'This isn't the America that I know,' but I mean, this is," said Jill Manrique, 33, of Skokie, Ill. Manrique said she was compelled to participate partially because of her Mexican and Jewish heritage.

"I think it's important to not pretend America's this place that didn't do this before and that hasn't treated people like garbage, because it has," she added. "And now it's just time for everyone to wake up and change it."

After the Department of Justice protests, many of the women moved on to Capitol Hill, where they staged a sit-in at the Hart Office Building.

Eva Malecki, communications director for Capitol Police, said the department charged about 575 people with unlawfully demonstrating. She said they were being processed on the scene before being released.

Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut visited the protesters to show their support.

Duckworth, who had her new baby daughter in tow, told CNN "I wanted to show my support for the folks here today ... I could only imagine what it would be like to have my daughter -- my breastfeeding child -- ripped away from me the way some of these other moms' babies have been."

The protest was peaceful, CNN reported.

It wasn't the only immigration-related protest held in the country Thursday. In Portland, Ore., Department of Homeland Security officers in riot gear removed protesters camping out at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, KOIN-TV reported. Officers dismantled the protesters' tens, but more than 100 demonstrators remained outside the ICE building.

Police arrested and later released at least eight people in the Oregon protest.

Rob Sperling of the Federal Protective Service told KOIN-TV that though there was some screaming, "nothing was violent or anything like that" and it actually remained "very calm and peaceful."

Farther south, hundreds of people gathered in a protest at the federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which organized the demonstration told Houston Public Media.

Meanwhile, first lady Melania Trump made another trip to the border Thursday to visit a temporary detention facility for children and adults in Arizona.

"I want to thank you for all your hard work that you do," she told Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. "And I know how dangerous and difficult your daily jobs are. I really appreciate all you do on behalf of the country ... I'm here to support you and give my help, whatever I can for behalf of the children and the families. Thank you for having me."

McAleenan said 1,100 unaccompanied children entered at the Arizona ports of entry since October 2017, including a 6-year-old boy left alone near Luke Air Force Base with a Coke bottle in hand.

"People have to understand the dangers of the desert, of the heat, of the violence that exists out there," McAleenan said. "This is something that our people encounter on a daily basis."

Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor under federal law, and for a person who has already been deported once it's a low-level felony, but the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy announced in April prosecutes both with no exceptions even if a person requests asylum.

Since the day he announced his presidential campaign, Trump has made securing the southern border a cornerstone of his presidency. He has used examples of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrations to shore up support for a border wall and his zero-tolerance policies.

"I always hear that -- 'Oh no, the [undocumented immigration] population is safer than the people that live in the country.' You've heard that, fellows, right? And I say is that possible? The answer is it is not true. You hear like they are better people than what we have, than our citizens, it is not true," he said last week.

Trump signed an executive order last week to end the policy of separating immigrant children from their families after national outcry, replacing it with a policy of family detention. That left officials scrambling to figure out how to detain families together until Monday when border officials temporarily stopped referring most immigrant families for prosecution.

A federal judge in California ordered Tuesday that immigrant children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexican border must be reunited within 30 days -- and children under 5 within 14 days based on an ACLU suit. The Department of Health and Human Services estimated more than 2,000 children were still in immigration detention centers separate from their parents, at that time.

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