WASHINGTON – Two activists from Buffalo were released from police custody here early Wednesday after being arrested Tuesday in a Capitol Hill protest called to urge Congress to act on immigration reform.
Jennifer Diagostino of the Buffalo Coalition for Economic Justice and Michael Nicolas Okinczyc of VOICE-Buffalo were among 208 people arrested in the protest, in which they sat down in the street in front of the Capitol to block traffic.
Eight Democratic House members – Reps. Charles Rangel and Joseph Crowley of New York, Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, John Lewis of Georgia, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Al Green of Texas and Raul Grijalva of Arizona – also were arrested.
“This was an intentional act that would lead to our arrest,” said Okinczyc, who said the move was worth it to call attention to House Speaker John Boehner’s refusal to let the House vote on a massive immigration reform bill that has been passed by the Senate. “We went there to urge Congress to act.”
The arrests came in the late afternoon after an immigration reform rally that had attracted a crowd of several thousand to the National Mall. The people who planned to take part in the final part of the protest – including Diagostino and Okinczyc – then walked to First Street, just east of the Capitol, where they sat down until the Capitol Police dragged them away.
“We were patted down head to toe, handcuffed and taken to jail,” Okinczyc said.
Those arrested were kept in a basement room while their arrests were processed. Diagostino said the protesters were charged with blocking passage and fined $50 apiece. Diagostino said she was finally released at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Okinczyc was freed about an hour later.
Both said, though, that the experience was worth it to promote their cause: legislation that would create a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“We want Congress to get back to work and pass immigration reform,” Diagostino said.
Okinczyc agreed. Noting that his father was a refugee from Poland and that his mother’s side of the family hails from Mexico, Okinczyc stressed that the United States is a nation of immigrants. “We can’t forget the history of the nation,” he said.