They came by car, bus, and plane. One man walked from NYC. Daughters, mothers, fathers, and sons from all walks of life descended upon the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to call for reform of the nation’s immigration system. The vast majority were of Hispanic descent, yet immigrants and their supporters in attendance were there representing all corners of the globe, including Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
NYC voices were well-represented at the rally in the nation’s capital organized by Reform Immigration for America. Brooklyn’s Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH) took 9 buses. New York’s other boroughs were also represented.
Upon approaching D.C., bus riders were informed that “the Department of Homeland Security’s Deputy Assistant Secretary (Al Pena) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Policy (Esther Olivarria) today gave us and the rally organizers their verbal assurance that they are instructing their departments and personnel NOT to stop buses heading to/leaving from the march.” Riders were also instructed not to comply if asked for a Social Security card or any other ID designating citizenship. Legal assistance was available to rally attendees. In addition, attendees were provided with a toll-free number to report any problems/encounters with DHS to Al Pena, Deputy Assistant Secretary of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Pena had “promised all community groups to respond immediately because he has given the order not to stop buses.”
Once in D.C., the diversity of support for immigration reform was apparent.
A delegation of 15 flew in from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sofia, a member of a group from Indiana, said they came because last November ICE raided a BP oil refinery. “Many families were separated,” she said. Three buses came from Delaware, where there is concern in “lower Delaware” for undocumented immigrants working in poultry processing plants and as groomsmen at the racetrack. One attendee said in Delaware that immigrants “are totally living in the shadows.” Seattle, Washington was represented by 50 members of El Centro de la Raza, a civil rights organization, who came by plane. 100 came from Colorado, riding by bus for 24 hours.
Several buses came from the Bronx, including 2 filled with men who immigrated to the United States from Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Congo, Mauritania and Guinea. Bakary, the group’s organizer, said “This affects everybody. Immigration reform is not a Latino issue, alone.” Representing the Gambian Society and the Bronx Alliance of the Islamic Cultural Center of NY, Bakary said “Immigration is a Black people’s issue, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.”
Bakary told of men “separated from families,” then described an incident that occurred on the Friday before the rally. According to Bakary, a member attended mosque, then went home to move his car. As this member was putting his key into the car door, ICE took him into custody. This man has been in the country for 30 years under a work Visa that he regularly renewed. The last time he sought to renew the Visa, his request was denied. Bakary said African immigrants lawfully live in the U.S. under work Visas until “the program is not available anymore.” Officially undocumented, ICE-was able to detain him, pending deportation. The man is married with 5 U.S. born children.
In the Bronx, Bakary said ICE is known to observe mosque attendees, but do not detain members at the mosque “because it would cause a big problem.” According to Bakary, ICE follows members home from the mosque, then picks them up for immigration violations.
Pastor Abrago, who heads a church in Prince George’s County on the edge of Washington, D.C., said he spent his entire ministry working with immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. Abrago said attending the rally was a revelation. He “didn’t know there were so many Hispanics interested in immigration reform until attending this rally.”
Hispanics were the largest immigrant groups at the rally. They carried printed and homemade signs expressing their views. “Justicia Para Todos los Immigrantes.” “Democracia Ahora.” “Education, not deportation.” “Jesus is an Immigrant.” “Immigrant Roots, Immigrant Rights.” “Sons and Daughters of Immigrants and We Can Vote.” One man had this handwritten message on the back of his T-shirt: “¨Donde estan as promesas? Al Voto Latino?” Many attendees wrapped themselves in American flags, including one family of 5 with three small children.
Immigrants from dozens of Caribbean countries carried signs, too, such as “Illegal Status is the New Segregation.”
Pastor Gil Monrose, head of Brooklyn’s Church of Zion said, “We are here to advocate for immigration reform. Not only are our Latino brothers and sisters here. We have just about every Caribbean island represented in our group of about 500 people here from New York, stretching from Trinidad and Tobago up to Jamaica, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent and all the other islands. Yes, we appreciate the Latino brothers and sisters coming out to support us, but there is also a new voice as well. We want to be part of that conversation. Our message to President Obama today, “Si, se Puente.”