Brent Finnegan -- July 21st, 2010
Harrisonburg immigration activist Isabel Castillo, an unauthorized immigrant, was arrested outside Sen. Harry Reid’s office in Washington D.C. Tuesday for participating in a protest supporting passage of the DREAM Act. Castillo was in one of three groups of recent college graduates arrested for staging sit-ins in front of senators’ offices.
Many immigrant groups and their supporters have been pressuring senators in recent months to expedite passage of the legislation which would grant children of unauthorized immigrants (who arrived with their parents as minors) the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency. Tuesday’s sit-ins targeted senators Reid, McCain, and Schumer. The Hill reports:
About a dozen young people dressed in blue valedictory caps and gowns were arrested Tuesday afternoon in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building . . . At about 4 p.m. [one of three groups] sat down on the floor in the center of the atrium, around a 6-foot sign that said “Undocumented and Unafraid,” and “Dream Act Now.” They sat for about 15 minutes before being handcuffed in plastic cuffs and escorted away by Capitol Police.
Meghan McNamara, State Director of Reform Immigration for America, said that Castillo, a recent graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, has been released, and is awaiting arraignment in D.C.
From an email McNamara sent Wednesday morning:
Isabel Castillo, 25 of Harrisonburg, Virginia, was arrested at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20, 2010 in Washington, D. C. with four other college graduates. These five students, who would be beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, were arrested by Capitol Police in Senator Harry Reid’s office. Castillo said of their action, “This is an act of peaceful civil disobedience. We can wait no longer for the DREAM Act to pass. We write letters, we hold marches, we visit our congressmen and what we hear is that we must continue to wait.”
Students explained they picked Senator Reid’s office because they believe he has the ability to bring the DREAM Act out of committee and onto the senate floor for a vote. Earlier in the day 13 other DREAM activists were arrested in other congressmen’s offices.
Castillo came to the U. S. when she was six years old. She graduated from a local high school with a 4.0 GPA. She completed her undergraduate degree at a local university in three and a half years, again graduating with honors. She has a degree in social work, but is unable to work. The four other students told Senator Reid’s office staff similar stories. Each of them is from a different state and has graduated from college. They stressed to anyone who would listen how much they value education and that they just want a chance to give back.
While others negotiated for a way to discuss these students’ concerns short of their being arrested, the students remained resolute. Castillo said, “I have waited 10 years for the passage of the DREAM Act. We hear the same reasons over and over as to why the DREAM Act cannot be passed today. I am doing this for students in Harrisonburg. I am doing this for one million students around the country whose dreams are dying. The time to pass the DREAM Act is now.”
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who introduced the DREAM Act in the Senate, has condemned the actions of the activists who were arrested.
Reached for comment following the arrests, a Durbin spokesman said, “Today’s demonstrations by some DREAM Act supporters … crossed the line from passionate advocacy to inappropriate behavior . . . Sen. Durbin believes that we will win this fight on the merits, not through public demonstrations or publicity stunts.”
Local DREAM Act supporters have planned a rally in the parking deck near Harrisonburg’s Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, scheduled to take place tonight at 8:00. “Students, parents, professors and teachers will speak about the act of civil disobedience and why they believe so strongly that Congress should pass the DREAM Act this summer,” according to the release.
McNamara said Castillo is expected to be at the rally in Harrisonburg tonight to speak about her experience.