Dreamers, immigrants and activists are gathering in DC today calling for immigration reform. (Photo/courtesy of Vanessa Alvarez)

Thousands gathering for immigration rally, and pushing for change

Hareth Andrades, a 19-year-old Bolivian Dreamer from Virginia, was getting ready to go to Washington D.C. with her father, sisters and her aunt.  Her mother, an accounting student in Bolivia who became a nanny after coming and staying in the U.S., did not get time off to attend.  Andrades obtained deferred deportation for herself, but then had to handle most of the legal issues when her father was detained by immigration authorities for a month last year; he is now facing deportation.  Coming to D.C. to advocate for immigration reform, she says, was something she had to do.

“My parents were the first Dreamers; they gave up their education in Bolivia so we would have a better life, and I would not be here if it weren’t for them,” says Andrades. “I need to fight for them.”

The young Dreamer is joining thousands who are congregating in the lawn of the nation’s Capitol for the Citizenship for 11 Million rally, calling for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented. And like other Dreamers and activists, the 19 year-old Dreamer is first going to one of her Senators’ offices, in this case Senator Mark Warner, to talk about her family’s situation, and the toll her father’s detention had on the family. “I couldn’t believe it was happening to us.”

Patricia Machado, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, has a busy immigration law practice in the predominantly Dominican and Mexican neighborhood of Washington Heights, in New York City.  She took the day off, got on a train, and is attending the rally as well as visiting legislators as part of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

“The people I deal with get criminalized, yet the crime they broke was out of desperation,” says Machado. “People don’t want to leave their country and come here to be treated like indentured servants, or run across a border and end up handcuffed with an orange jumpsuit.  No one wants to have to do that, but they do it for their families,” she says.

The rally today takes place as the momentum for an immigration reform bill keeps building. The latest information is that the Senate Gang of Eight could introduce legislation in the next few days, possibly the beginning of next week.

While some of the rally’s biggest organizers are Latino groups such as Casa de Maryland, the speaker lineup is composed of diverse groups, pointing to immigration as not solely a “Latino” issue.  Asian-American legislators and leaders will participate and speak, and the keynote speaker will be African American civil rights leader Ben Jealous, who heads the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“This is a valid and prudent tactic, to have other faces and voices up front,” says Antonio Gonzalez, of the William C. Velazquez Institute. “The truth is while the main beneficiaries of legalization might be Latinos and Asians, in a broader sense it’s really about our economy, and everyone benefits from the boost of millions of underground workers coming to the surface,” he adds.

Economics aside, however, Gonzalez says there is another reason why an African American keynote speaker makes sense.

“The human and civil rights of the undocumented is the modern-day civil rights movement,” says Gonzalez. “You can’t have 10 million people excluded from society and have a health democracy.”

Velazquez says that while there are tensions in some communities between Latinos and African Americans over issues like jobs, “the African American leadership has been terrific and in solidarity with the undocumented rights movement, more than any other constituency,” says Velazquez.  “They get it.”

While acknowledging that enacting legislation through Congress will not be easy, those gathering to participate today hope to send a strong message.

“The majority of immigrants are good and hard-working, like it has always been,” says Machado. “There was a time when signs said ‘Irish Need Not Apply.’  So I’m here to help make a difference,” says the attorney.

Vanessa Alvarez contributed to this report. 

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