On March 21 over 30 people from Ithaca, among them community members and students from Cornell and Ithaca College, took a bus to Washington, D.C. to join the March for America rally for comprehensive immigration reform. It was the largest single-issue mobilization since President Barack Obama took office. An astounding 200,000-250,000 people turned out, more than doubling earlier estimates. Even though the mainstream media was focusing on the healthcare bill (which the House of Representatives was voting on that day) and was therefore slow to adequately cover the rally, those of us who were there knew that it was a big event — history in the making.
It was a good day to be in the nation’s capitol. It was warm and sunny with a festive atmosphere and lots of families and children. Overall it was a remarkably peaceful rally. People came from all over the country, some of them traveling for days, to give voice to the millions of families in this country, citizens and non-citizens alike, who are harmed by the current immigration system. Among the marchers were day laborers and migrant farmers, college students and university professors, asylum seekers, veterans, farmers, union organizers, human rights activists and religious leaders.
The diversity of the crowd was also reflected in the more than 50 speakers, representing a broad coalition. Among them were members of Congress, leaders of faith-based communities, labor organizers and civil rights activists. They spoke passionately about the cruelty and ineffectiveness of the current immigration system, and urged the President and Congress to make immigration reform a priority this year. President Obama spoke to the crowd in a brief video-taped address, encouraging further grassroots mobilization and reaffirming his commitment to work with Congress on bi-partisan legislation.
One of the most outspoken supporters of comprehensive immigration reform has been Congressman Luis Gutierrez from Chicago, Illinois, who introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (H.R. 4321) in the House of Representatives last December. The bill, which has been sent to various committees, has not yet reached the House floor for a general debate. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) are still working on a bipartisan bill in the Senate. Once the Senate bill is introduced, it will also have to make its journey through committees before it will reach the floor. This is a lengthy process.
Some political pundits have wondered if the timing is right for this contentious problem to be tackled now. However, there will never be an ideal time for comprehensive immigration reform and it is long overdue. Under the current system families are routinely torn apart, people are detained and deported at alarming rates and tremendous cost, employers are deprived of their workforce and workers have inadequate protection, which hurts labor standards across the board. During the rally marchers were asking for comprehensive immigration reform that promotes family unity and provides pathways to legal status and citizenship, border security that targets violent criminals instead of focusing on hard-working families who are law-abiding, a better system for employers and employees to safeguard abuses while providing for a sufficient supply of labor and a way for tens of thousands of students to fulfill their dream of going to college.
The March for America succeeded in its primary goals, getting the attention of the President and Congress, letting them know that millions of people in this country support and demand reform, and putting comprehensive immigration reform (back) on the legislative agenda.
Already the climate in Washington has changed tremendously from what it was only a few weeks ago, and representatives are now meeting with advocates of immigration reform they previously avoided. Organizers will try to keep the momentum going. A series of rallies are planned for April 10th across the nation, and in Ithaca events will take place on May 1, in conjunction with the International Day of Labor.
On May 1st Reform Immigration for America will also issue report cards for members of Congress, grading them on their positions on immigration reform. As speakers at the rally pointed out, the Latino community is growing into a significant voting block and cannot be ignored indefinitely. Those who oppose immigration reform may well feel the consequences in the next election cycle.
The March for America was only the beginning and grassroots mobilizations will commence throughout the year as various people and groups continue to build coalitions and consensus. They are asking for practical solutions that are fair and just for all persons in this country. Reform will benefit the nation’s economy and security, while honoring the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution, which protects civil rights for all, not just U.S. citizens. As President Obama noted, immigration reform will honor this nation’s past as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. It will also move this country toward a more sustainable future.
Ute Ritz-Deutch is a member of the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition. She can be contacted at [email protected] Guest Room appears periodically this semester.
Original Author: Ute Ritz-Deutch