WASHINGTON — More than 180 demonstrators, including five from Arkansas, were arrested Wednesday on the steps of the U.S. Capitol while protesting Congress’ inaction on immigration legislation.
Maria Meneses, 19, of Little Rock; Diana Pacheco, 20, of Little Rock; Xiomara Caldera, 20, of Springdale; Armando Reyes, 22, of Rogers; and Michel Rangel, 24, of Rogers were briefly detained.
Meneses and Pacheco, beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, were brought to the United States as children and are here illegally. They fear deportation.
A spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police said the protesters were charged with violating D.C. code Section 22-1307, which prohibits crowding, obstructing or incommoding.
The Washington, D.C., code makes it illegal to block the entrance to any public place once law enforcement personnel have instructed people to move.
The code also makes it illegal “to engage in a demonstration in an area where it is otherwise unlawful to demonstrate and to continue or resume engaging in a demonstration after being instructed by a law enforcement officer to cease engaging in a demonstration.”
Uniformed police officers stood on the stairs above the sitting protesters, gently leading them away.
“They were warned to cease and desist their unlawful demonstration activities,” a police spokesman said.
Those wishing to be arrested wore green armbands and portrayed their protests as acts of civil disobedience.
Rather than having them stand trial, law enforcement officials allowed the protesters to “post and forfeit collateral.”
By paying a $50 penalty, protesters obtained “a full and final resolution of the criminal charge.” Under the law, each walked away without a criminal conviction.
While their protest charges have been resolved, the long-term status of Meneses and Pacheco is uncertain.
Legislation has repeatedly been introduced that would allow young adults raised in the U.S. and here illegally, to remain in this country. But the proposals have stalled over the years.
President Barack Obama, by executive order, created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, allowing people like Meneses and Pacheco to live and work in the U.S. without fear of sudden deportation.
President Donald Trump announced in September that he is ending the 5-year-old program, but he delayed its shutdown for six months so that Congress could pass legislation addressing the issue. Thus far, Congress has declined to take action.
In addition to Trump, a coalition of business executives and a large group of religious leaders have urged Congress to find a solution for so-called “Dreamers.”
Meneses, who left Guatemala when she was 2 years old, said she was in Washington to deliver a message to lawmakers.
“I’m here to push our congressmen to pass a clean DREAM Act,” she said, referring to legislation that would allow people like her to stay in the U.S. (DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). “I just simply wouldn’t understand if they can’t come together to actually pass something for people that are valuable to this country.”
Meneses, a biology premedical student at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, said she has big plans for the future.
“I expect to go to medical school and then I plan, when I get my citizenship, to run for the Arkansas Legislature,” she said.
Pacheco, who left Mexico City when she was 6 years old, said her family headed north in search of the American dream.
“My mom decided to come here to give us a better life,” she said. “[I’ve been in] Arkansas almost my whole life.”
Pacheco, who also attends Philander Smith College, said she fears being returned to a land that she barely remembers.
“I was born in Mexico. I understand that. But I was raised here, and I’m more American than anything else,” she said. “This is my home. There is no way I can leave. And if Donald Trump decides to take DACA away, just know that I’m not leaving without a fight.”
Metro on 12/07/2017