By Arturo R. García
On Saturday, thousands of immigrants and immigration advocates took to the streets across the country for the national March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect, a renewed call for U.S. lawmakers to stop dragging their feet on heavily-promised immigration reform. In San Diego, the event drew at least 3,000 people by police estimates, a mix of religious, labor, education and nursing groups from multiple communities.
A letter from Rep. Lloyd Doggett was read, expressing his regrets that he could not attend because he was in Washington because of the government shutdown that began Tuesday.
“You and all those marching for immigrant dignity and respect across America today are sending to Republican Speaker (John) Boehner a clear message — permit a House vote on immigration reform now,” he wrote.
Valerie Rodriguez, 30, brought her children and several in-laws from Del Rio for the event. She said many more could not come.
“We have hundreds who cannot cross the (U.S. Border Patrol) checkpoints. Some of these people have no way to get their papers unless there is reform,” she said.
“A lot of my family and my husband’s family are undocumented,” she said.
– San Antonio, Texas
In Brooklyn, more than 2,000 people gathered at Cadman Plaza before marching across the bridge.
“We are hoping today is going to galvanize immigrant communities who maybe haven’t been involved as much in the campaign that’s been going on all year. But it’s also to show the incredible momentum for reform,” said the immigrant coalition’s Jacki Esposito.
“These are people’s lives we’re talking about, families who are trying to put food on the table, young people who are trying to have a bright future.”
“Unfortunately, immigration reform has become a political question,” said Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, who spoke to marchers outside the church. “For us in the Church, it’s a religious question. Jesus Christ told us that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Him.”
The march processed behind a float with statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the risen Christ. A couple dozen matchines, traditional Mexican dancers that honor the Blessed Mother, followed close behind.
Marchers raised American flags while they cried “Sí se puede” and other chants that referred to their unity. Young and old alike took part in the peaceful protest, with parents pushing their children in strollers or carrying them on their shoulders.
Christians are required to be “the voice for the voiceless,” Bishop Nevares said. “We must recognize the dignity of each human person and the dignity of the family. It is our religion that brings us here to stand for the most vulnerable in our society.”
The Los Angeles demonstration called “March of the Stars” kicked off shortly after Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that included a bill prohibiting local law enforcement agencies from detaining people for deportation if they are arrested for a minor crime and otherwise eligible to be released from custody.
“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead,” Brown said. “I’m not waiting.”
March organizers in Los Angeles had expected tens of thousands to turn out to the rally, which was among some 150 demonstrations on a day billed as the “National Day for Dignity and Respect.” Roughly 2,000 people participated, some holding signs that read “Education Not Deportation” and “Congress get back to work!” Others carried elephant pinatas, blaming the impasse on Republicans.
The mobilization is a prelude to a rally and free concert Tuesday on the National Mall in Washington.