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Members of Congress protest separation of families at the border

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 6/14/2018 By Eliza Fawcett, Tribune Washington Bureau
John Lewis wearing a suit and tie: Rep. John Lewis speaks at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 24, 2016, in Washington, D.C. © Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS Rep. John Lewis speaks at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 24, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON - Members of Congress and immigration activists blocked the entrance to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters Wednesday, protesting the Trump administration's policy of separating families at the border.

Ten House members, including Reps. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., John Lewis, D-Ga., Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., wore white armbands to signify their intention to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

The representatives sought to draw attention to a policy many of them called immoral and inhumane. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said the issue had not received the congressional scrutiny it deserved.

"I cannot think of an act that is more cruel and more inhumane than to rip a child from the arms of a mother," Gutierrez told a crowd of about 200 people at Freedom Plaza. The event was organized by activist groups including the Center for Popular Democracy.

Jayapal said that on Saturday, she visited migrant mothers being held in a federal detention center south of Seattle.

"What I saw was outrageous, inhumane, cruel, unethical," she said, describing frigid holding cells where women are held for days without clean drinking water. "They were told they were going to take showers or be photographed, and when they came back, their children were no longer there. In many cases they were standing in a room right next to them. They could hear them screaming for them."

Spurred on by Lewis' command to "get in a little good trouble," the crowd flooded the intersection of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, walking against traffic toward the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, which houses the headquarters of the Border Patrol agency.

Gomez, who said he had never been arrested in an act of civil disobedience, said he was there not only to protest the federal policy, but to stand up for residents of his district who didn't go to work, school or health appointments out of fear that they or their relatives would be taken away.

Half an hour into the sit-in, however, organizers got word that neither Customs and Border Patrol officers nor Washington police would arrest them. The thinning protest rallied again and advanced toward the White House.

"The law says that families can apply to asylum, that they should have a hearing," said Chu, marching behind a banner. "This policy of Trump's is to not even allow them to have a hearing on their asylum claims. That's not right. That's going against the rule of law."

Near the White House, protesters linked arms in a circle in the middle of a busy intersection, once again seeking arrest. But police officers soon rerouted traffic and, again, it became clear that arrest would evade them.

Gutierrez insisted they had made their point, nonetheless. "We have won today," he declared. "We will magnify this issue."

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