Several children were among those arrested outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday after blocking traffic to protest the lack of action by Congress to pass immigration reform legislation.
At least seven minors joined close to 20 family members and immigrant rights advocates to block the intersection of Independence Avenue SE and New Jersey Avenue SE. They wore red and white shirts that read “Stop Separating Families.”
Shortly after they linked their arms and sat in a circle to block the intersection, U.S. Capitol Police offices moved in to arrest them.
The children say they participated in the action as a way to urge members of Congress to pass immigration reform legislation that would ultimately protect their parents from deportation. It is estimated that more than 5 million children — a majority of them U.S. citizens — currently live in the United States with at least one undocumented parent.
Yahir Servin, an 11-year-old from Alabama, was among those who took part in the civil disobedience action. Servin and his mother are both U.S. citizens, but his father is undocumented.
“Although I’m a U.S. citizen, I’m doing this because my dad needs immigration reform,” he said in a statement. “I don’t want any other kids to have to live with fear of losing their dad to deportation like I do.”
The children traveled from all across the country to participate in the action organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the nation’s largest immigrant rights coalition. There were children from Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington.
FIRM spokesperson Kica Matos said the children who participated in the action “know firsthand just how much our current broken immigration system has wreaked havoc on millions of people.”
“These young people have expressed a readiness and desire to continue their advocacy that includes acts of civil disobedience,” she said. “They have become leaders in the movement because they want to stop the growing crisis in their communities that senseless and rampant deportations have caused.”
Matos was among the adults who joined the minors to participate in the civil disobedience action.
This isn’t the first time children participate in an act of civil disobedience. During the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders organized several actions in which children risked arrest. However, those actions turned violent when police officers began using water cannons and police dogs to attack the children.
Wednesday’s civil disobedience action was peaceful, with dozens of supporters coming out to show their support.
The action came on the same day that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) spoke on the House floor to remind House Republicans that time is running out in the legislative calendar to pass immigration reform legislation this year.
“With just 25 legislative days until the July 4 recess, the Republicans have a difficult task and it gets harder with each passing day,” he said. “But I am optimistic.”