Six protesters who chained themselves together and blocked the entrance to the Butler County Jail were arrested Thursday as they rallied for immigration reform.
Protesters with United We Dream, a youth-led immigration reform group, said they want President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to pass an immigration reform bill.
The Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June that offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully. The measure also requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of fencing and deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Those living in the country illegally could gain legal status while the border security plan was being implemented, but would not be granted permanent resident green cards or citizenship.
The bill’s prospects are highly uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where conservatives generally oppose citizenship for immigrants living in the country unlawfully.
“We want our chance to earn our citizenship to earn our humanity, because we are not being treated as human beings,” said Antonio Castanon, coordinator of United We Dream. “This facility (Butler County Jail) is a human trafficking facility. It separates families and makes money off of that.”
The Butler County Jail houses undocumented immigrants for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Approximately 100 illegal immigrants, arrested by ICE officers, are currently housed in the jail, according to Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones.
Jones said he opposes deportation, but doesn’t think illegal immigrants should be allowed access to jobs or free social services.
“They can’t have jobs over Americans or people who came here legally,” he said. “I don’t think they should get welfare, don’t think they should get anything free.”
Protesters sang songs and told stories about their family’s struggles.
Castanon said one of the men arrested, “he lived in poverty in El Salvador, his mother left him for a better life, once he was 15 he wanted to meet his mom so he crossed the border by foot just pursuing family unification.”
Reverend Peggy Garrison, of First United Methodist Church in Hamilton, said illegal immigrants “will fill jobs that people will not” amd called an immigration reform bill “long overdue.”
“This isn’t an issue of good or bad, it’s an issue of the ability to support their family, to be a family and be in a country where they are accepted because they do important work in the country,” Garrison said.
Sheriff’s deputies warned protesters they would be arrested if they didn’t move. After a few minutes deputies escorted them a few feet to the jail. Approximately 60 people gathered in the street then moved into the parking lot holding signs and chanting.
The six people were booked for disorderly conduct, a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and were released on their own recognizance, said attorney Cassandra Rodriguez. They are scheduled to be arraigned Friday morning in Hamilton Municipal Court.
Arrested were: Oliver Merino-Morales, 24, of Wingate, NC; Luis Aguilar-Garcia, 18, of Boonville, NC; Parth Thaker, 22, of Charlotte, NC; Yash Mori, 18, of Charlotte, NC; Lizette Diaz, 22, of Yadkinville, NC; and Maura Pereira, 18, of Cooleemee, NC.
Rodriguez said she was contacted by the group to be on standby at the protest.
“This was a planned act of civil disobedience to the fact they are tearing apart families with deportation,” Rodriguez said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.