Thousands of people converged at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to push for legislative action on immigration reform—and the head of a Minnesota union, as well as a U.S. Congressman from the state, were arrested during the demonstration.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said that many of its leaders were arrested, including Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26. Morillo oversees a local that represents Twin Cities janitors and security officers in commercial office real estate. The organization recently added about 1,000 new suburban security officers, boosting its total membership to roughly 6,000. Local 26 is one of four SEIU locals in Minnesota.
In addition to Morillo and a handful of other immigration rights activists from Minnesota, some legislators were also arrested, including Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison. Other Democratic U.S. Representatives who were arrested include Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, John Lewis of Georgia, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Charles Rangel and Joseph Crowley of New York, and Al Green of Texas, according to the SEIU.
Media reports indicate that those arrested had blocked a main street near the Capitol. They were reportedly booked for “crowding, obstructing, and incommoding.” About 200 people were arrested in all.
The protest came about a week after House Democrats reportedly unveiled an immigration bill meant to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally and to tighten border security. The bill reportedly combines portions of a bill that the Senate passed in June with border security legislation that won the Homeland Security Committee’s support. Most House Republicans, however, oppose a comprehensive approach.
Twin Cities Business conducted an in-depth examination of the immigration reform debate in its August cover story. The feature story chronicled how business groups have, often behind the scenes, been championing immigration reform, because the state’s labor pool relies on it.
Due to the efforts of a group called the Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition, hundreds of Minnesota businesses now back the push to modernize federal immigration laws. Their message: Without more immigrants, Minnesota’s labor force will fall short of the workers it will need, at both the higher and lower ends of the skills spectrum, as baby boomers retire.
For input on the contentious subject from business groups, economists, analysts, and others, read the full story here.
The SEIU said Tuesday’s demonstration followed “mass mobilizations” in more than 160 cities and was one of “many” expected to be held this month.
Reached by phone Thursday, Morillo said he was arrested at 5 p.m. Tuesday and was released around 4 a.m. the following morning. He said it marked the second time he was arrested; he spent 37 hours in a Houston jail in 2006 during a different demonstration. Morillo said he paid a $50 fine to be released Wednesday morning, and he is "hopeful" that legislative leaders will pass immigration legislation.
The Star Tribune reported that Tuesday also marked the second time that Ellison has been arrested during his four terms in Congress; he was previously arrested in 2009 during a rally to protest the expulsion of aid groups in Darfur. On Tuesday, Ellison paid a $50 fine and was released, the Star Tribune said.
The Minneapolis newspaper pointed out that some, including Fifth Congressional District GOP Chairwoman Nancy LaRoche, called Tuesday’s protest an act of “showboating” and a “distraction from what now is an emergency,” referring to the federal government shutdown.
Union leaders, meanwhile, saw it as an opportunity to make their voices heard.
“Two hundred men and women have made a serious decision to cross the line to make it undeniably clear to Speaker Boehner and his colleagues in leadership that we are not tired, we are not shutting up, and by no means will we stop demanding a commonsense solution to our dysfunctional immigration system,” Morillo said in an e-mailed statement.