A supportive crowd of dozens chanted “undocumented and unafraid” and “sí se puede” as the demonstrators were arrested by state troopers.
Fifteen immigrant rights supporters were arrested Wednesday outside the Texas Capitol after they blocked traffic in an effort to defend existing immigrant protections and demand permanent legal status.
A supportive crowd of dozens chanted “undocumented and unafraid” and “sí se puede” as the demonstrators were handcuffed and removed from a downtown Austin street on the north side of the Capitol, where they had sat for about 10 minutes. The activists were led into a nearby state building by Department of Public Safety troopers and later transported to the Travis County Jail.
“I’m doing this for my family and sisters who are undocumented and my 6 month-old-son so he can live in a world where human dignity is respected,” shouted Manuel Ramirez as a trooper escorted him. Ramirez said he’d been undocumented for 20 years but recently got permanent legal status, which was why he said he could “put [his] life on the line.”
The 15 activists are charged with obstructing a highway, a Class B misdemeanor, and range in age from 20 to 42, police said.
“After repeated requests by DPS officials to leave the roadway were ignored, the suspects were arrested without incident,” said DPS staff sergeant Victor Taylor in a statement.
The hourlong demonstration was led by so-called dreamers — recipients of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — and came on the heels of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s urging the Trump administration to end the program. An organizer told the Observer that four of the 15 arrested activists were DACA recipients and that their immigration status could be jeopardized by a criminal record. Others were permanent residents or citizens, she said.
“I benefited from DACA, but I knew that was always temporary and didn’t benefit everyone in our community such as my parents,” said Catalina Adorno, an activist from San Antonio, while in cuffs. “There are some serious risks [to getting arrested] but… I know that all the small victories the immigrant community has had were the result of people taking risks.”
On June 29, Paxton led a 10-state coalition in sending a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding that the administration terminate DACA, which has provided work permits and relief from deportation to more than 750,000 young immigrants since 2012. The letter threatens that if Trump doesn’t comply by September 5, the states will sue the federal government via an existing lawsuit. Trump has repeatedly vacillated on the question of DACA, and the letter appears to be an attempt to force his hand.
Behind the Wednesday protest was Movimiento Cosecha, a two-year-old immigrant rights network that emphasizes direct action and “noncooperation” to demonstrate the nation’s “dependence on immigrants,” according to Vera Parra, a Cosecha organizer. The network has a presence in more than 20 states and is run by full-time volunteers, Parra said.
A new version of the DREAM Act was introduced last week in the U.S. Senate. The DREAM Act of 2017 would provide a path to citizenship for many childhood arrivals. Similar versions of the proposal have failed in the past decade, and the 2017 version is unlikely to pass a Republican-controlled Congress and administration.
During the regular legislative session, 24 protesters were arrested after an eight-hour sit-in at Governor Greg Abbott’s office lobby in opposition to Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities ban.