Five students were arrested Thursday on Capitol Hill during a demonstration in support of young undocumented immigrants.
About 30 protesters from United We Dream, an advocacy group for young undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, staged a “die-in” in the office of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., by laying on the ground for about 30 minutes beginning at noon. The students were demanding Congress pass protections for DREAMers after President Donald Trump’s decision to scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which temporarily shielded those immigrants from deportation.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested the students after they were warned for a third time to leave Heller’s office and refused. Organizers said they targeted Heller because many of his constituents are affected by the DACA rollback and – because he is a more moderate Republican – they felt he could be convinced to support immigrant protections.
A spokesperson for Heller did not immediately return a request for comment.
The students were escorted out of the Hart Senate Office Building, where Heller’s office is located, in zip ties and placed in waiting police vans. Protesters who were not arrested, including three GW students, followed the detained students to the side entrance of the building. The students continued to chant slogans like “We see you, we love you” and “We will flood the streets with justice.”
Sophomore Tyler Chalfant, senior Nikolas Michael, senior Olivia Murphy, freshman Eleanor Paul and freshman Dylan Basescu were arrested at the demonstration. Organizers said the students knew they would be detained before the protest began.
Karla Aguirre, a field organizer at United We Dream and a DACA recipient, said the protest on Capitol Hill is one of many the group is planning to pressure senators and representatives to support the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers.
She said every week since September, when Trump announced the end of the DACA program, the group has been bringing people from across the country to protest, lobby and visit congressional offices. Losing the DACA program, she said, would mean that undocumented immigrants that came to the United States as children could be sent back to countries that they have never known.
“To think that I could lose my DACA is absolutely terrifying, and I also think about my parents,” she said. “To think about being separated from my parents is absolutely scary.”
The DACA program is scheduled to officially end in March, but Aguirre said the group is pushing for congressional action by the end of the year to ensure young undocumented immigrants aren’t kept living in fear.
When Trump announced the end of DACA, he called on Congress to pass its own immigration bill by the time the program expired.
During the protest, organizers told the stories of four undocumented immigrants who they said had been unjustly detained because of their status, including Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10 year-old girl with cerebral palsy who made national headlines in October when she was detained in Texas after undergoing surgery.
Murphy and Basescu said this was the first time they have been arrested. Murphy said it’s easy to worry about arrests being on criminal records, especially because as a senior, she is the midst of a job search.
But she said she had to support the legislation because of the damage ending DACA could cause.
“It’s not an issue that’s hypothetical, like it could be dangerous or it could be violent,” she said. “It already is.”
These students were the second group from GW to be arrested by Capitol police this week for protesting in support of DREAMers. On Tuesday, seven students and four activists from United We Dream were arrested also at Heller’s office. At least three students were arrested outside the Capitol last month after a walkout to protest the end of DACA.
Henry Manning, a senior and research fellow at United We Dream who helped organize the protests this week, said the movement is launching a “political assault” through civil disobedience to urge passage of the DREAM Act. He said it’s urgent that the bill is passed this month because sweeping legislation is typically not passed in congressional election years.
“Trump and other Republicans have tried to frame it as a non-emergency, but that’s an intentionally ignorant view,” he said.
He said there will be more protests until the last day of the congressional session Dec. 22.