Seeking to draw attention to stalled immigration talks in Congress, immigrants and their supporters have prayed and fasted — and in some cases gotten themselves arrested.
That’s what happened to 33 women — including Peggy Lynch, the wife of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn — who Thursday occupied the Bellevue headquarters of the Washington State Republican Party, refusing to leave after being ordered to by the building’s owner.
Their act of civil disobedience, along with an immigration protest outside the building, were among dozens of events across the U.S. The demonstration in Bellevue drew a response from about 50 police officers.
The advocates want to escalate pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to bring a Democrat-sponsored immigration bill up for a vote and to persuade Republicans to back it.
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The sweeping measure would, among other things, create a path to citizenship for those in the country unlawfully. It is unlikely to be voted on this year.
Only three Republicans have signed on to the bill, none from Washington.
“We are here to tell them we will be on their backs until they do,” said Pramila Jayapal, who founded OneAmerica, the state’s largest immigrant-advocacy organization.
Planned for weeks by local immigration and labor groups, Thursday’s action caught the GOP office staff off-guard.
Away in Washington, D.C., state Chairwoman Susan Hutchison, in a prepared statement, said, “We are happy to have dialogue with anyone on the important issue of immigration reform. You cannot fix a broken law by breaking the law.”
Lynch, an accountant, said she wanted to lend her voice, “as the daughter of an immigrant who was able to immigrate here with her dignity intact.”
“I am here as a woman to speak up for women who can’t,” said Lynch, whose husband spent part of the morning giving a concession speech in the mayor’s race. “This is an important issue that needs to be addressed. It’s been too long coming. And if it takes a few women getting arrested to move people to action, then so be it.”
The local action was part of a two-pronged approach by organizers who staged an unpermitted “walk” from Bellevue Downtown Park to the office building on Northeast First Street.
As the women crowded the small offices of the GOP, Lynne Dodson, of the Washington State Labor Council, presented their demand: a commitment by the state Republicans to support the House bill.
As Executive Director Caleb Heimzich retreated into his office to place calls, the women settled in, chanting and singing to the strumming of a guitar. “We shall not be moved,” they sang, arms locked and rocking back and forth.
Meanwhile, in the lobby, protesters loudly chanted some of the movement’s now-familiar refrains such as: “Immigration reform!” from a person with a microphone, then “Now!” from the crowd.
At one point, a building tenant told the protesters that whatever their cause was, it was disrupting those trying to conduct business. Some businesses locked their doors, thinking the building was under attack.
The 33 women were arrested for investigation of
first-degree trespassing, processed and released.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @turnbullL.