Activists March on DC to Demand Immigration Reform and a Stop to the Separation of Families

Activists lobbied Congress members to stop deportations and pass immigration reform. (Photos: Jelena Kopanja)

Activists lobbied Congress to stop deportations and pass immigration reform. (Photos: Jelena Kopanja - Click for more)

At four o’clock in the morning on Tuesday, a handful of people gathered on the corner of St. Nicholas Ave. and Linden Street in Brooklyn, waiting for the van to arrive. The morning cold did little to temper the group’s enthusiasm as they were getting ready to head to Washington D.C. for an immigration reform march.

Nicolas Zambrano remembered the last time he made the trip two years ago. There were more people back then, filling up several buses. The economic crisis, he believes, had some impact on Tuesday’s turnout. Not everyone could afford the ticket.

Under the slogan of “family unity,” the event in Washington D.C. brought together some 3,000 people, including religious leaders, community organizers and immigrants who shared their stories about families separated by deportations. American citizens spoke about their fathers or wives being sent back to their home countries while they remained in the United States.

Listen to the story of Peter Derezinski, an activist with Chicago’s Polish Initiative, whose father was deported (English with Spanish translation):

[audio:http://feet2worlds.centernyc.org/PeterDerezinski_ed.mp3]

An immigration activist for over a decade, Zambrano, talked of the hope he felt just prior to September 11th 2001, when he believed reform was at hand. While President Obama’s priorities today may be health care reform and the economy, Zambrano feels immigration reform is strongly linked to both and that pressure must be maintained on the president to fulfill his campaign promises.

The bill to be introduced by Rep. Gutierrez will make less concessions, an aide said.

The bill to be introduced by Rep. Gutierrez "will make less concessions," an aide said.

But there was uncertainty about how immigration reform will fare in competition with other priorities.

“I think that if (Obama) doesn’t get a solid win on health care, all bets are off on something as contentious as immigration reform,” said Rabbi Michael Feinberg, who came from New York City as a representative of the Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform.

Justice and Dignity for All Immigrants.

"Justice and Dignity for All Immigrants".

Illinois representative Luis Gutierrez detailed part of the immigration reform bill that he is about to introduce in Congress. Unlike the previous bi-partisan Strive Act that Gutierrez co-sponsored, the new legislation will offer fewer concessions, said his senior policy advisor, Enrique Fernandez Toledo, during a meeting with La Voz de Esperanza Latinoamericana, the group of which Nicolas Zambrano is a member (and where this reporter was present.)

Listen to Gutierrez’s speech:

[audio:http://feet2worlds.centernyc.org/LuisGutierrez.mp3]

“We want to set the standard,” he said, aware that the bill will probably change when it makes its way through Congress.

Among the bill’s provisions are a pathway to legalization for more than 12 million undocumented migrants if they pass a background check, faster family reunification procedures and the creation of a commission that would try to “align visa numbers with labor market demand.” The bill would incorporate the DREAM Act and AgJOBS initiatives, allowing undocumented students and agricultural workers a path to citizenship. It also calls for “establish[ing] a strategic border enforcement policy that reflects American values,” according to a press release by Reform Immigration for America, one of the event’s organizers.

Activists felt enlivened by the turnout and by Gutierrez’s proposals.

“It is a strong beginning for a campaign that will go on for a long time,” said Feinberg. Unlike the previous efforts, he added, Gutierrez’s proposal seemed to meet the “needs of the constituents that are represented here today.”

Some have been arrested in their workplaces, others in their homes — like criminals, said an activist.

"Some have been arrested in their workplaces, others in their homes — like criminals," said an activist.

But the most immediate need is to end immigration enforcement raids, said Silvia C. Arias, a volunteer with Chicago-based Pueblos Sin Fronteras.

“We have forty families that we are working with. Some have been arrested in their workplaces, others in their homes — like criminals,” she said. “We must stop family separation.”

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