The arrests came as tensions flared on Capitol Hill surrounding the immigration debate, including allegations of massive overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at U.S. Border Patrol facilities.
“The United States Capitol Police arrested 70 individuals for unlawfully demonstrating in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building. All were charged with D.C. Code §22-1307, Crowding, Obstructing, or Incommoding,” USCP Communications Director Eva Malecki wrote in an email.
At the protest, Sister Pat Murphy, 90, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, who traveled to Washington, D.C., from Chicago, said she was one of those arrested.
In a phone interview, Murphy told ABC News that she "cannot not do it," calling the current situation "immoral."
“These are our brothers and sisters and they are part of the human family and how can we not? I mean, any person with any human compassion would reach out,” she said. “What is going on is, it’s just abominable. It’s a horrific situation that’s happening right now.”
Murphy called what is happening on the border “a disgrace,” and said it is “very shameful in terms of our country.”
“This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, and yet, we’re separating people from the children from their families,” Murphy said.
Murphy has been with Sisters of Mercy for 71 years, and helped start the group, Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants – a Chicago organization that goes into jails and visits with immigrants who are in detention.
“People are being punished because our immigration system is broken, it’s shattered, it doesn’t exist,” she later added.
Sisters of mercy had joined other religious groups and immigration activists Thursday in the nation’s capital for the Catholic Day of Action to oppose White House’s treatment of migrants, according to a tweet from Sisters of Mercy.
“Images of children kept in deplorable and unsanitary conditions, without access to showers & sleeping on concrete floors without blankets & being detained incommunicado have compelled us to stand in solidarity and say, ‘not in our name!’” Sisters of Mercy tweeted.
Also Thursday, in testimony before the House, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the administration struggled to address the overcrowding at border facilities without additional resources from Congress, which took several weeks to receive. Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused the Trump administration of an “empathy deficit” when handling migrant children including forced family separations as a way to deter asylum seekers.
The Maryland congressman also noted independent reports asserting that the Homeland Security Department failed at keeping track of the families, as it ordered adults into ICE custody and referred children to HHS.
“We are the United States of America," said Cummings, visibly upset and frustrated. "We are the greatest country in the world. We are the ones who can go anywhere in the world and save people, make sure that they have diapers, make sure that they have toothbrushes, make sure that they aren’t defecating in some silver paper. Come on. We’re better than that, and I don’t want to lose sight of that."
He added: "When we are dancing with the angels, these children will be dealing with the issues that have been presented to them.”
McAleenan defended Border Patrol agents and said many volunteer their own time to conduct search-and-rescue operations at the border.
“Where is the deficit of empathy there? These are predominately Latino Border agents. They have children of their own and they are out there, trying to protect them on the line, trying to do the best they can,” McAleenan said.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio, stopped McAleenan to restate that the majority of Border Patrol agents are Latino and asked what good it does to criticize them.
“Yeah,” he said. “It just doesn’t help. It doesn’t help. At some point, we have to get past all this. We have to get what’s driving the problem.”
Jordan supports detaining children and families past a court-ordered limit of 20 days so as to deter families from coming to the U.S. illegally.