Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Two Nevada activists were voluntarily arrested at a sit-in outside House Speaker John Boehner’s office Thursday, in a demonstration designed to urge Congress’ top Republican to back a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“For me this is a statement,” said Theresa Navarro, president of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “I’m willing to give up my freedom to have people get their citizenship. They want to look at immigration reform, but with no citizenship, and that is unacceptable.”
Navarro and PLAN director Bob Fulkerson joined hands with about a dozen other activists to sit in a circle in the hallway outside of Boehner’s district office in the Longworth House Office Building on Thursday afternoon, singing and chanting pro-immigration slogans for about two minutes before they were arrested by Capitol Police.
“We have used petitions, we have used voting, we have used civil engagement. We have exhausted all conventional means of persuasion,” Fulkerson said shortly before the demonstration. “Now it’s time to take it to the next level. Going to jail would escalate the battle.”
The demonstration and arrests were, like many such displays on Capitol grounds, partially arranged with law enforcement officers in advance. Boehner’s staff had locked the door to his office. Police officers were nearby. And demonstrators participating in the actual sit-in were expecting to be detained for anywhere from two to 12 hours after being handcuffed and loaded into police vans outside.
“It’s better for days, you know?” Fulkerson said, expressing a willingness to sustain a harsher punishment to make a stronger point. He was the first of the activists to be arrested.
Thursday was the first time in decades that either Fulkerson or Navarro had been arrested demonstrating for a cause.
“I’ve been an activist for almost 40 years, and I always knew I wanted to get to this point,” Navarro said.
The demonstration was the second such display of the day: Earlier, leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the United Farm Workers, the Campaign for Community Change, America’s Voice and others were arrested after sitting on the street outside of the Capitol to block traffic in a call for the House to act on immigration reform.
Fulkerson and Navarro attended the earlier demonstration but did not participate in the sit-in that led to the group arrest.
“I’m not one for blocking traffic – I feel bad, people need to get to work!” Fulkerson said sheepishly while lauding the leaders for “their fierceness and determination.”
Fulkerson and Navarro also had support during their demonstration from several dozen more immigration activists, including unauthorized Nevada immigrants Astrid Silva and Julietta Marquez, who also work with PLAN.
Silva and Marquez intentionally did not participate in the sit-in, as being arrested could have further complicated their legal status in the country.
“People are willing to put their own lives on the line to be arrested ... just think about children who have to watch their parents get arrested in the middle of the night,” Marquez said. “It’s important for our members of Congress to understand that this is an issue that impacts families, communities, our friends on a daily basis.”
Thursday’s demonstration was intended as a kickoff event for the recess period: Over the next 40 days, activists are promising demonstrations, prayer, and other public calls for a pathway to citizenship and immigration reform.
Activists said they have no plans to repeat a sit-in and arrest of the kind they staged Thursday but would keep the option in their arsenal, depending on how their persuasive efforts work over the next several weeks.
Before joining the protest at which Fulkerson and Navarro were arrested, Silva had visited in far less dramatic fashion with Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
“We definitely hope that neither Congressman Heck or (Mark) Amodei lead us to have to do this,” Silva said. “I’ve always tried to do things the way that I think they should be done, which is our reps listening to us. But if it gets to the point where, like Speaker Boehner, they’re closing the door on any type of movement forward, then it has to be done.”