Immigrants’ rights protesters arrested seeking to block State House entrance
Seven protesters from the immigrants’ rights group CASA were arrested in Annapolis on Friday trying to block the front door of the State House as senators were entering the building for their morning session.
The demonstrators were part of a larger group of CASA activists and supporters who have been stationed outside the State House for several days in an attempt to pressure the Senate to vote out a bill that would expand health care access for undocumented immigrants. The bill passed resoundingly in the House on March 15 but has been bottled up in the Senate Finance Committee and is not expected to move before the General Assembly session ends on Monday night.
One of the protesters who was arrested, Emely DeLeon, 22, a CASA organizer from Baltimore City, said she was willing to risk arrest to try to sway Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). Her father, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, died from COVID-19 in January 2022 after being ill for several weeks. He had no health insurance.
“Knowing that Senate President Ferguson is holding this up and he’s from Baltimore City, I wanted to be here,” she said in an interview.
DeLeon, one of 11 children, said her family has been grieving and struggling since.
“Me and my family thought we had escaped the pandemic. We had taken so many precautions,” she said. “Now I and my mother have to take care of our family.”
More than 50 protesters had gathered on Lawyers Mall in front of the State House, waving signs and chanting slogans in English and Spanish, for most of the morning. But at around 11 a.m., just as senators began walking in to the State House, seven people climbed to one of the top steps in front of the building’s main entrance, unfurled a banner that read, “Health Care is a Human Right,” and began chanting from there.
The banner wasn’t quite wide enough to block the entrance to the building, and for a few minutes, members of Ferguson’s security detail escorted a handful of senators up the side of the staircase and into the building. But moments later, the heavy, ornate front doors of the State House were shut, and officers from the Maryland Capitol Police sought to disburse the demonstrators. When the protesters refused to leave, they were handcuffed, led down the stairs, and made to stand a few dozen feet down State Circle for several minutes. Eventually, police cruisers arrived from the Annapolis Police Department and took the protesters to the city jail on Taylor Avenue, 1 1/2 miles from the State House.
The Maryland Department of General Services, which oversees the Capitol Police, had not issued a formal statement on the incident by press time Friday. Col. Michael Wilson, chief of the Capitol Police, was seen conferring outside the State House with Eric Luedtke, the chief legislative officer for Gov. Wes Moore (D), for several minutes while the protesters were being arrested. Both declined to comment on the record.
Ama Frimpong-Houser, CASA’s legal director, said she anticipated the seven demonstrators being charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor. She said she expected them to be released later Friday afternoon without having to post bond, as soon as they were finished being processed at Annapolis Police headquarters.
One of the seven people arrested was Trent Leon-Lierman, CASA’s Maryland organizing director — and the brother of state Comptroller Brooke Lierman (D). CASA leaders said all seven of the protesters who were arrested were U.S. citizens.
Coincidentally, just as the seven protesters were being led away in police vehicles, members of the House of Delegates were coming down the stairs of the State House after their morning floor session had concluded. Several asked bystanders what was going on.
“For our community, who feels invisible, who’s not heard, who lives in the shadows, who protests peacefully — your heart has to go out to them,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), the chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee and a co-sponsor of the immigrant health bill. “Being arrested isn’t easy.”
Ferguson was presiding over the Senate floor session and could not immediately be reached for comment early Friday afternoon.