ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Fifteen immigration reform activists were arrested Tuesday for blocking a street in front of the federal courthouse at the culmination of a march aimed at persuading central Florida Republican lawmakers to support comprehensive immigration legislation.
One by one, wearing red T-shirts that said "Clear Our Path to Citizenship," the protesters were restrained with plastic cuffs and lifted to their feet by police officers. They sang and rejoined linked arms as each activist was pulled from a sitting circle. One protester went limp and was carried by officers to a police van.
Police Sgt. Jim Young said the activists faced charges of unlawful assembly for blocking traffic for almost an hour. Officers rerouted traffic, keeping traffic headaches to a minimum.
The activists were asking central Florida lawmakers to follow the lead of California U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham and support the latest House comprehensive immigration reform bill. Denham became the first House Republican to join the Democrat-backed legislation last weekend.
About 200 other protesters joined the arrested activists in a march through downtown Orlando, pressing GOP Reps. Dennis Ross, Tom Rooney and Daniel Webster to follow suit. They also called on House Speaker John Boehner to bring the comprehensive immigration bill to the floor for a vote. They chanted, "Listen, we're here in the fight" in Spanish, wore rainbow-colored butterfly wings and carried signs that said "John Boehner, Time is Now!"
Evelyn Rivera, 25, recounted how her mother, who was from Colombia and not in the country legally, was pulled over for a traffic stop in 2007. Rivera watched as her mother was handcuffed by the police officer and taken away. She eventually was deported to that South American nation, Rivera said. The arrest broke up her family since her father, who is a permanent resident, now splits his time between Florida and Colombia, and her sisters, who were born in the U.S. and are citizens, chose to stay.
"It's hard not to think about it every day," said Rivera, who is in the country legally through an Obama administration program that puts off deportation for many people brought here as children.
Alma Javier, a union leader who also marched in Orlando, said Boehner and other lawmakers need to realize their children could one day marry immigrants and experience firsthand how visa problems can split up families.
"It's really hard seeing all of these families broken up," said Javier, a union leader who represents food and beverage workers at Walt Disney World.
U.S. Rep Joe Garcia introduced the bill, which includes a path to citizenship for many in the country illegally. It needs Republican support to pass.
In a statement, Rooney said he supports legislation that would secure borders and create a guest worker program for farmers.
"Instead of trying to pass a massive bill, which almost certainly couldn't pass in the House and which would be a nightmare to implement ... I'd like to see us move in a step-by-step direction that accomplishes our shared goals," Rooney said. "I think it's critical that we secure the border before addressing more controversial issues."
A spokeswoman for Webster didn't immediately comment.
Ross said in a statement he supports immigration reform but it should be done "in an incremental fashion."