Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was arrested for the 45th time on Oct. 8 during a massive rally and march protesting government inaction on comprehensive immigration reform in Washington, D.C.

A venerated figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis has seen the inside of a jail many times as he fought for equal rights and justice for Blacks in America. And the reported 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States also deserve a voice, he said.

“If you see something that is not right, then you have to speak up and speak out and find a way to get in the way,” the Georgia congressman tweeted on Oct. 9 as the caption of a photo depicting him being arrested by Capitol Hill police.

Lewis was among more than 200 lawmakers, civil rights and faith leaders and immigrants—including four Congressional Black Caucus members—who were arrested for deliberate acts of civil disobedience after they sat down in the street in front of the U.S. Capitol , where they gathered to demand that House Republican leaders pass common-sense immigration legislation with a path to citizenship this year.

The protest march occurred after the Rally for Immigrant Dignity and Respect, organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which was attended by thousands of supporters.

Jaime Contreras, SEIU vice president and SEIU Maryland-D.C. State Council president, was among those arrested.

“Today I saw and heard the hope, the frustrations, the determination of the American people – as we have been seeing and hearing for years – who want the immigrant community to walk the road to citizenship and participate fully in our democracy,” said Contreras, an immigrant who fled a bloody civil war in El Salvador at age 13, at the rally, according to an SEIU account. “The American Dream has been a reality for me, and I stand unequivocally in solidarity with them.”

Also among the arrestees were Lewis’ colleagues U.S. Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Al Green (D-Texas).

“Proudly standing up for immigration reform. This is what democracy looks like,” Rangel posted on his Twitter account along with videos and photos of the march and arrests. He added, “My colleagues and I are not afraid to get arrested for what we believe is important to move America forward.”

After the arrestees were taken to jail, they were released after paying a fine.
“A misdemeanor charge is a penalty that I am willing to accept to raise awareness on the issue of immigration reform,” Congressman Al Green said in a statement.

Efforts to retool the nation’s immigration system gained momentum coming out of the 2012 presidential election. President Obama, attempting to keep his campaign promises, made immigration reform a top priority and even released a reform plan. Republicans, too, acknowledging the blunders they made with Hispanic voters, seemed more amenable to advancing an immigration reform agenda.

But that agenda has since gone dormant and has been pushed to the back-burner by the government shutdown and looming budget and debt ceiling battles.

A plan developed by the House’s bipartisan “gang of seven” is largely dead, according to media reports, due to a lack of support from GOP leaders and continuing uncertainties concerning border security and whether the 11 million illegal immigrants should be given a special pathway to citizenship.

And, a comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced by House Democrats on Oct. 2, the {Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act} (H.R. 15), is unlikely to receive support from House Republicans.

March organizers and activists say they hope the large-scale protest and other advocacy efforts will push lawmakers to take up the much-needed reform.

“We must have comprehensive immigration reform, such that our national security is strengthened, as well as worker and wage protections improved for citizens and immigrants alike,” Green said in his statement. “…The vitality, as well as the integrity of immigrant families, is not just important to immigrant communities, but important to the success and prosperity of our nation.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO