WASHINGTON As chances of Congress agreeing on any immigration legislation dwindled on Thursday, several hundred protesters gathered outside the White House to push one main goal: keeping immigrant families together.
Religious organizations and immigrant activists staged a rally, and the U.S. Park Police said 112 people were arrested. The act of civil disobedience at Lafayette Square was aimed at urging President Barack Obama to prevent deportations that would split children from their parents.
"We've pretty much given up on Congress to do something on immigration this year," said Tammy Alexander of the Mennonite Central Committee, which does church-based relief work.
The protesters were targeting the White House as the only hope for keeping immigrant families together, she said. Alexander said she was "politely hopeful" Obama would take meaningful action this summer.
U.S. officials are trying to cope with an influx of 57,000 children traveling alone and predominantly from Central America who have arrived at the U.S. Southwest's border with Mexico since September.
The Obama administration has said that most of the children would not meet criteria for asylum or other status and would most likely be sent home.
Republicans and Democrats have been deadlocked over Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding for to respond to the crisis and acknowledge that legislation will not be enacted before they begin a five-week August recess on Friday.
On Thursday, Representative John Boehner, speaker of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, had to cancel a planned vote on legislation that would provide $659 million in crisis funding, much less than what Obama had requested.
Boehner had tried to obtain enough support from his fellow Republicans for the spending bill by hastily arranging a vote on a second immigration-related measure later in the day. That bill would have prohibited Obama from taking new steps on his own to suspend deportations of some undocumented residents who have been living in the United States for some time with their families and have no criminal records.
But even that was not enough, according to senior House Republican aides, leaving Boehner and his leadership team to scurry for a new strategy.
The deportation suspension effort hits home for protester Erik Aleman, 17, of Maryland, who said his parents brought him to the United States from El Salvador 11 years ago and they remain undocumented.
The children flocking to the border alone are coming "for a better life," he said.
"Where I'm from, the jobs ain't nothing compared to the jobs over here," said Aleman. He said drug gangs harass his relatives in El Salvador.
The demonstration came before a weekend of planned immigration protests, including a Saturday march from the National Mall to the White House on Saturday, organized by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, Sisters of Mercy, and the PICO National Network, a group comprised of faith-based community organizations.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Annika McGinnis; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jonathan Oatis)