Several members of Congress risked arrest Wednesday as they protested the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy, which separates migrant children from their parents in the event that parents are taken into custody by immigration officials.
The members of Congress — as well as dozens of people including actor John Cusack who joined them — marched to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection building in Washington, D.C., chanting, among other things, “Bring our babies back” before seating themselves on the steps of the CBP building.
Among those protesting the separation policy were civil rights icon and longtime Georgia Rep. John Lewis (D), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), Rep. Al Green (D-TX), and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). According to Splinter, Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), the first former undocumented immigrant to serve in Congress, was also present in several photos from the protest.
“DHS will arrest children, but when Members of Congress commit civil disobedience they watched silently. Shame! So we are taking our protest directly to Donald Trump. Next stop the White House,” Chu tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
Ultimately, none of the members of Congress at the CBP steps were taken into custody, so the group began marching to the White House before changing plans and linking arms while standing or sitting in the street instead. Chu tweeted that the group of protesters had “shutdown Pennsylvania Ave.”
“Protesters…say they’re going to stay here until they get arrested,” Vox’s Ella Nilsen reported.
At the time of publication, no one had yet been arrested.
The protest comes just one day after a McClatchy report revealed the Trump administration is reportedly considering erecting so-called “tent cities” — a gentler term for what are effectively prison camps — to hold the thousands of migrant children currently detained by the administration after being separated from their families.
According to McClatchy, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen instituted the “zero tolerance” policy last month, the number of migrant children held in U.S. government custody without their parents has increased more than 20 percent. HHS shelters are now reportedly more than 95 percent full and hold more than 10,000 immigrant children.
Sessions defended the policy in a recent radio interview, claiming that most children detained by the government are “not infants,” while simultaneously admitting that toddlers and babies were, in fact, being taken from their parents.
“Most are teenagers, although we do have a number of younger ones now, more than we’ve seen recently,” Sessions said.
Attempting to justify the practice, Sessions said the children were “maintained” in a “very safe environment” by Health and Human Services. (Health and Human Services officials are reportedly the ones considering tent cities.)
“They are kept close by, and if the person pleads guilty [to illegally crossing the border], they would be deported promptly, and they can take their children with them,” Sessions said.
Sessions also blamed migrant parents for the policy in the interview. “We don’t want to do this at all. If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them,” he said.
Last week, The Washington Post published a disturbing report about a man who committed suicide after his family was separated at the border. One agent told the Post that he didn’t understand why the man, torn from his family, “would choose to separate himself from his family forever” by taking his own life.
Homeland Security officials told the Post they were “doing more to explain the separation process to parents” and had set up a special hotline to help people find their children after reports surfaced that some immigrants were being sent back to Central America while their children remained in U.S. foster care.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) as Rep. Jimmy Gonzalez (D-CA).