After blocking an intersection for more than three hours, 22 demonstrators were arrested Wednesday evening at a downtown rally to urge an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
After blocking an intersection for more than three hours, 22 demonstrators were arrested Wednesday evening at a downtown Seattle rally to urge an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
Causing hours of traffic gridlock, the group stood in a circle holding hands at the intersection of Madison Street and Second Avenue, until, one by one, each was willingly carried off and arrested by Seattle police.
Among the protesters were members of groups in the Washington Immigration Reform Coalition, including OneAmerica Executive Director Pramila Jayapal. As they were arrested, they continued to sing choruses of “This Little Light of Mine,” “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.”
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The coalition rallied and blocked the street in the same spot May 20, but that day nobody managed to cause enough mayhem to get arrested. This time, the protesters seemed determined to stay in the street until police forced them out.
Seattle police spokeswoman Renee Witt said the coalition sent police a clear message: “They want to be arrested, and they’ll stay here all night if they’re not.”
Pramila Jayapal said OneAmerica and the coalition hope for a new immigration law that includes legalization and a path to citizenship for the undocumented, a clearing of the backlog of families waiting to get into the U.S. so that they can be reunited with family members, full labor protection for future immigrant workers, due process in the immigration legal system and a humane enforcement strategy.
“The president needs to do more” to push such legislation forward in Congress, Jayapal said “especially in the wake of what’s happened in Arizona.”
The Coalition is pushing ever harder for immigration overhaul following the recent passage of a controversial law in Arizona that allows police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Critics call the law racist.
Participants in Wednesday’s demonstration set up camp tents in the intersection, hung laundry on clotheslines and sat in solidarity even as passers-by shouted curse words and angry drivers honked.
Pat Craig, who was riding on a Metro bus down Second Avenue just as the rally moved into the street, was angry the protesters were holding up traffic and got off the bus to see the commotion.
“It’s a good message they’re sending, but they’re going about it the wrong way,” Craig said. “People who support immigration reform might be turned off to it now.”
The demonstrators said their walk into the street got the attention of local residents, and that was their objective.
“The point was to undertake civil disobedience to draw attention to the moral crisis” of the nation’s immigration system, Jayapal said.
OneAmerica spokesman Charlie McAteer said immigration overhaul is not at the forefront of the country’s mind as it should be, in part because of the recent oil spill fouling the Gulf of Mexico. He and the rest of the coalition decided to take advantage of a heavy traffic day downtown — thanks to the Mariners home game — to hammer home the message that the issue ought to get more attention.
Before demonstrators took to the street, a group of about 200 gathered in the plaza in front of the nearby Jackson Federal Building to hear state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-South Seattle and other community members speak about the importance of immigration overhaul.
At about 3:30 p.m., the entire group moved into the intersection and began chanting, singing and setting up camp.
Within the hour, police managed to redirect cars and buses to other streets, closing off several blocks to traffic. Police asked everyone to clear the intersection at about 5:30 p.m., and all but the 22 people standing in a circle complied.
Jill Kimball: 206-464-2136 or email@example.com