Jaisal Noor, TRNN Producer: I’m here at the Capitol. Behind this wall of people, about 200 people are getting arrested right now in one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the history of the nation’s capital. Protesters are calling for an immediate end to deportation and for Congress to pass a just and humane immigration reform bill.
Noor: Can you just tell me why you’re here today, what your message is, and what you’re calling for today?
John Lewis, Arrested Protester, Congressperson (D-GA): Well, it’s important that I be here with other members of Congress to show our solidarity with this whole effort for comprehensive immigration reform. As I said in another time, in another period when people would tell us to wait and be patient, I’ve said today we cannot wait, we cannot be patient. We want comprehensive immigration reform now. It’s long overdue. It is time for the Congress to act.
Noor: Now, President Obama has deported almost 2 million people. The Republicans are forcing—especially the Tea Party is emphasizing a piecemeal approach that will not legalize many of the 12 million people here that are undocumented. What’s your response to both of those?
Lewis: My response is very simple. We do not need to deport any other individuals or any families. It’s time for us to keep all of the people here and find a way to move very fast to make people legal and set people on a path to citizenship.
Noor: You’ve been taking part in the Moral Mondays. Why are you here today from North Carolina?
Rev. William Barber, Arrested Protester, President of North Carolina NAACP: Because immigrant reform is important to our whole community. It’s important to all of us as Americans. We in the Moral Monday movement believe it’s the moral thing to do, to do justice by all people.
Noor: And part of what you’re protesting against are harsh immigration bills on a state level. Why is it important to get a national immigration reform bill passed?
Barber: We are a country of federalism, and so we need federal law that trumps what’s going on at the state level so that state-level laws cannot undermine the rights and the privileges of all people.
Whenever you do an act of civil disobedience, you’re going after the moral heart of the nation, you’re saying this is bigger than just laws and politics, this is about the soul of who we are.
Linda Sarsour, Arrested Protester: I think it’s necessary for me to be here today to put myself at risk for arrest because I’ve marched, I’ve rallied, our community has collected postcards, we’ve met with our elected officials, and nothing has happened. And we say the time is now, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that our families get the dignity and respect they deserve through immigration reform.
Noor: Today’s march for dignity and respect comes on the heels of dozens of actions held across the country on Saturday.
Monica Ramirez, Deputy Director, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante: I’m here supporting the migrant women’s delegation. Guest worker women are exploited all the time. And one of the reasons that comprehensive immigration reform is necessary is because these women are being defrauded and taken advantage of and they’re being considered less frequently for visas. Women can work, women should be allowed to work, and they should have equal terms and conditions to be able to work. And that is why we’re calling for reform.
The reality is that there are people who have been waiting for years and years, and we want that system to be addressed because families should not be separated. There have been individuals who have been away from their small children, and by the time they see them again, they’re adopted. And that needs to change.
And what we want to see happen is that there be a streamlined process so that people can get status, so that they don’t have to come here without documents so that they can be exposed to exploitation.
There are a lot of undocumented immigrant women who are here in this country today because they don’t have an avenue to get a visa to come here and work. And those women are coming, many single mothers are coming, some fleeing violence, some fleeing other very terrible situations in their country, and they don’t have an avenue for relief. And they shouldn’t have to come to the United States and then be separated from their family for longer periods of time.
Noor: The Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform bill in June, and the House Democrats introduced their own version last week which emphasizes border enforcement. But House Republicans want a piecemeal approach, even stricter border enforcement, with its Tea Party wing rejecting a path for citizenship for undocumented residents.
Sarsour: If immigration reform were to pass today based on the Senate bill, we would never stop fighting, because there’s a lot of provisions in that bill that we do not support. What we do support is a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people. And that is something that I’m not going to minimize and I’m willing to fight for, even in a bill like the Senate bill where there are provisions that I don’t agree with.
Elizabeth Clark, Legal Program Assistant, Casa de Maryland: So the militarization of the border, the further militarization of the border is basically inviting border patrol to commit flagrant human rights abuses. We need to be focusing on the reasons that are bringing people over the border, not trying to shoot them as they’re making the calculation do I provide a better future for my children or do I stay in the position that I am, do I risk my life.
The militarization, we’re going to be spending millions and millions of dollars that could be invested in getting at the root of the problem, not supporting free trade bills like NAFTA that are creating situations of poverty that are forcing people over the border in the first place. It’s just a very bad use of our tax money and of our government that can’t even function at the moment because of the dispute over the budget. It’s just a terrible waste of the money and doesn’t even attack the heart of the problem.
Sarsour: What we’re doing today here is we’re trying to change that conversation. We’re trying to show that we are what America looks like, we are the voters in 2014, and we will be the voters in 2016. And we’re sending that message to House Republicans. And we will not push for a House Republican bill or language like the SAFE Act. We are not criminals and we do not want to be treated like criminals, and neither do our community members. So we hope that some negotiations come to the floor where at least a pathway to citizenship is passed, and we can then work around some of the other issues, ’cause we will continue to fight this prison-industrial complex, the detention centers, the deportations, which is something we know will continue to happen.
Noor: Activists say they will target congresspeople and the Obama administration with direct action in the upcoming months. It remains to be seen if they will be successful.
Reporting for The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor with Chris DeMillo in Washington.