Immigration Reform 2013: D.C. March Puts Heavy Pressure On Lawmakers


Above: Approaching the Capitol at the Rally for Immigration Reform.

On an uncommonly hot and sunny Washington D.C. spring day, tens of thousands rallied outside of the Capitol building to show their support for immigration reform. Politicians, poets, and representatives of immigration-related NGOs spoke to the crowd, who consistently and cheerfully chanted, "Si se puede." ("Yes we can" or "It can be done.") Advocates hope to see the Senate pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that could include pathways to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers. 

Above: Advocates call on Marco Rubio, "This is your fight."  

I had the opportunity to attend the rally, gauge the mood, and interview millennials about their motivations for promoting immigration reform. Unsurprisingly, many are the children of immigrants and have family members who will be greatly affected by any reform — or lack thereof. 

Paula, 21, was one of many millennial representatives from Juntos, a Latino immigrant community civil rights organization. Her parents came from Ecuador in the late 1980s in pursuit of a better future.

"My mother felt there was no hope in Ecuador .... that America gave her more opportunities for her children," she said.

Above: Swarthmore students who made the trip down.

Every person I talked to and almost every speaker mentioned more opportunities for their children; it was the unofficial rallying cry for the event. Keynote speaker Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, focused on families, relating the current struggle to that of Irish and black indentured servants in the 18th century, 14th Amendment advocates in the 19th, and civil rights activists in the 20th. 

"We don't care what your parents did ... where they were from. If you are born here, you are an American citizen."

After every verse, he repeated his chorus: "There will be no second class families in this country."

Above: A lawyer advocate.

Much of the attention was on Latinos, but several representatives of Asian-American Pacific Islander organizations spoke, including Doua Thor, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center and Manar Waheed, policy director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, who both spoke about reunification. A fairly large contingent of South Asian Americans were present, displaying large banners calling for reunification of families and highlighting an immigration issue that does not receive a lot of play in the media. (Namely, many Asians come to the U.S. in order to reunify the family and face a long waiting process for visas.)

Above: Filipinos for Family Reunification.

While it seems a decision on the immigration reform bill may not happen until after the next recess (May 6), most of the attendees seemed optimistic and felt that there was a sense of inevitability to the reforms. Alex, a Guatemalan who lives and works in Virginia, might have said it best: “We’re here. Whether or not they want to fix it, we’re here.” 

Above: Alex and two fellow Guatemalan immigrants.