Immigrants and civil rights groups, education and labor organizations, LGBT activists and Dreamers, and celebrities and musicians announced today they are expecting thousands to attend a rally Wednesday in front of the Capitol to press legislators for a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“First we were promised in March, then this week – nothing is happening,” said Gustavo Torres of CASA de Maryland, one of the rally’s main organizers. “Our community on April 10 is going to be very upset.”
“I know they are working hard, but it’s time to get legislation now,” Torres added, speaking in a conference call with others who will be part of the rally.
The group today said they will start the day on Wednesday by visiting legislators on Capitol Hill to make the case for a speedy immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship, followed by a rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Speakers will include civil rights icons like Dolores Huerta, Grammy-award-winning artist Olga Tañón, legislators such as Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Asian-American Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association (NEA) and the organization’s first Hispanic top executive, said it is teachers like Texas “Dreamer” Montserrat Garibay, who is coming to the rally in Washington, who see firsthand the effects of current immigration policies in their classrooms.
“She was telling me about a four-year-old boy talking about his fear of being separated from his mother and father, and how they have plans in place in case Mom and Dad aren’t there when he gets home,” said Eskelsen. ”This is a tragedy that a four-year-old has to live in fear.”
Composer and performer Miguel Ramirez, from the group La Santa Cecilia, said he will be performing at the rally to lend his support. Ramirez said he and his sister Marisol wrote the song ICE “to make sure the undocumented are not seen as numbers,” adding it was important to open “the release valve and allow millions to come out” through immigration reform.
Apart from the delegations from 28 states expected in Washington, organizers said “echo rallies” will take place simultaneously around the country for those who could not travel to the nation’s capital, especially those in states as far as California.
This past week, groups around the country have already been holding rallies as groups in the Senate and House work on finalizing a bill from each chamber. Today in a park near the Statue of Liberty, New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez called out for reform.
“The time has come for farm workers and fruit pickers, students and DREAMERS, cooks and maids, hotel workers and housekeepers, landscapers and construction workers, and non-citizen soldiers fighting to protect all of us, to have a chance to raise their hand and take the oath of citizenship,” said Senator Menendez, who is part of the Senate bipartisan “Gang of Eight” working on a bill. ”As the son of Cuban-American immigrants growing up not far from here in Union City… I know what’s at stake,” added Menendez.
While it has been reported that the Gang of Eight have reached agreement on many of the major issues surrounding immigration reform, part of the delay involves the sheer scope of the bill.
“The bill is 1,500 pages in length, and the drafting process is a slow one,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a consortium of groups which have come out in favor of immigration reform.
On the House side, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart said while they are making progress, many issues like border security are being tackled since “all of it has to be fixed. It is broken from A to Z.”
Among the concerns expressed by immigration rights groups is the length of time to put undocumented families on the path to citizenship. When asked whether 13 years would be too long a time, NEA’s Lily Eskelsen said, “Think of the four-year-old boy — in 13 years he will have graduated from high school without knowing what his citizenship status will be,” she said.
Groups said, however, the important thing is to have a bill out soon which can then be discussed and sent to committee.
In the meantime, Kica Matos, from the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, said her group will continue to educate the community, pray, get arrested if need be, “and descend on Congress.”