More than 40 youths with the immigration advocacy group Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) have been busy chasing down Congressional members in Washington, D.C. this week, but very few House members have been willing to meet with them. On Thursday, when activists between the ages of six to 15, marched to the Congressional offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), they were threatened with arrest by Capitol police officers for singing.
When activists filed into Cantor’s office, a Congressional aide called on police officers to remove more than a dozen youths who sang as a way to bring about immigration reform. In the video as children sang, “We want reform, we want it now,” an officer showed up to tell them to stop singing or to risk arrest if they did not leave the office.
OFFICER 1: Is anyone planning on getting arrested today or is this all peaceful demonstration? We have to ask you to leave … I appreciate what you’re doing. The congressman can’t meet you right now, so please set it up through email. Please don’t sing again. We have to ask you to leave. Do you guys want to stay in and be subject to arrest or go out? … Do you want to leave now or be subject to arrest if you stay in this room? … Everyone that stays in this room may be arrested.
A child activist broke down crying as the activists filed out of the room.
Six children made their way to Boehner’s office where they first slipped handmade cards under his locked office door. They then began to sing “We pray for Speaker Boehner to bring a bill to a vote” to the tune of the Christmas song, “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” An unnamed Capitol police officer shouted that singing was not allowed and that he would arrest the children if they continued singing.
OFFICER 2: Warning number one. That’s all you get. Okay? This is getting old real fast. I’m not going to tolerate it. This is a place of business and we do not sing in the hallway. Comprende?
ADULT ACTIVIST: We’re going to pray quietly. We’re not going to sing.
OFFICER 2: I’m going to stay [inaudible] because this is getting old real fast every day. I’m going to start making arrests.
According to a FIRM press release, 6-year-old Gabriel Arista said, “We did not see that man’s good side today.”
Capitol police were also called to Rep. Buck McKeon’s (R-CA) office when youth activists attempted to meet with him. The events are part of a series of intensive efforts by children who are asking Congressional members to take action on immigration reform in order to keep their families intact. The previous day, Cantor brushed off a 9-year-old activist as he walked down a office hallway. That child’s father is in immigration proceedings.
In a statement released to the Huffington Post, Capitol Police public information officer Kimberly Schneider said:
We are aware of the incident posted online concerning an unlawful demonstration today on U.S. Capitol Grounds.
The Department is reviewing the incident and wants to assure the public that the U.S. Capitol Police welcomes daily all people to visit and lawfully express their First Amendment rights.
Further, it is the mission of the U.S. Capitol Police and the basic training of our employees to treat all who visit the U.S. Capitol Grounds with dignity and respect.