Seventy activists were arrested in Washington, D.C., on Thursday while protesting the government’s treatment of undocumented immigrant children, organizers confirmed to HuffPost.
The group of Catholic sisters, priests, brothers and lay Catholic advocates recited the rosary as they gathered inside the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill for what organizers dubbed the “Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children.” Some of the participants held photos of children who have died in federal custody since 2018, while others lay on the floor of the building’s rotunda, forming the shape of a cross with their bodies.
The 70 individuals were arrested for unlawfully demonstrating, and were charged with obstructing a public place, U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki confirmed to HuffPost.
One of the activists arrested was 90-year-old Patricia M. Murphy, a Chicago-based religious sister who has spent years fighting for the rights of undocumented and detained migrants.
William Critchley-Menor, a young Jesuit scholar from St. Louis, said he came to stand in solidarity with migrant children at the southern border.
“We’re here because the treatment they’re receiving is completely incompatible and contrary to the message of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church,” Critchley-Menor said in a Twitter video from the Capitol lawn on Thursday.
“The Holy Father has called us to a ‘revolution of tenderness,’” he said, referencing a recent TED Talk given by Pope Francis. “What’s taking place at the southern border with children being away from their families, being placed in detention camps without knowing when they will be released is the opposite of tenderness.”
Critchley-Menor was later arrested inside the Senate office building.
Before the arrests, about 200 people gathered on the Capitol lawn to hear speeches from various Catholic leaders. Participants took part in responsive intercessory prayer and listened to testimonies from migrants.
The rally drew activists from a wide array of religious orders, such as the Sisters of Mercy, Jesuits and Franciscans, along with members of advocacy organizations such as the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Faith in Action and Faith in Public Life.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the country’s largest association of religious sisters, and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which represents about a third of America’s Catholic priests, also offered their support.
At least seven Catholic bishops from around the country published statements of support for the act of civil disobedience. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has made several statements in the past condemning the Trump administration’s border policies.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been under heavy public criticism in recent weeks as an influx of migrants pushes detention facilities well past capacity. Last month, a group of lawyers reported inadequate food, water and sanitation at one facility in Clint, Texas, noting that several kids were sick with the flu, while older children were being asked to take care of toddlers. Some children reported being separated from their parents or other adult caregivers, such as aunts and uncles, The Associated Press reported.
The government later moved most of the children from the Clint facility to other shelters. Border Patrol officials and the Trump administration have disputed the reports of unsanitary and unsafe conditions for children at federal detention centers.
Government rules dictate that Border Patrol shouldn’t hold children for more than 72 hours before transferring the minors to Health and Human Services, which places migrant youth in facilities around the country. But advocates claim CBP has been holding kids much longer than is legally allowed.
LCWR’s executive director Sister Carol Zinn said she would like to see the government quickly place undocumented children with family members in the U.S. or with community-managed care programs until the kids are able to appear in immigration court.
“The inhumane treatment of children being done in our name must stop,” Zinn said during the press conference. “Stop the traumatizing, stop the isolation, stop the detention of children, stop, stop, stop.”
This has been updated with more information about the arrests.