WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 civil disobedience at Lafayette Square 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 who have arrived at the southwestern border 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 to respond to the crisis and acknowledge that legislation will not be enacted before they begin a five-week August recess on Friday.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives was considering one bill on Thursday that would stop Obama from expanding his 2012 action to suspend deportations of children brought by their parents to the United States before mid-2007.
That 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, and drug gangs harass his relatives.
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.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Sandra Maler)