It’s been more than a year since Rubi Sanchez, an immigrant from Illinois, last saw her dad. She vividly remembers as armed officials surrounded her home and handcuffed her father, who was undocumented, in less than a minute. After he was detained, the family lost complete communication with him and struggled to make ends meet.
Sanchez is one of thousands of immigrants who are taking part in the Oct. 5 “National Day for Dignity and Respect,” a day aimed at mobilizing supporters around the country to advocate and ask Congress for an immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. As of Thursday, events were planned in 163 cities and 41 states.
“I don’t feel alone because I know that I am not the only one going through this,” said Sanchez, 18, who is part of a two-day, 30-mile walking Pilgrimage from Decatur to Taylorville in favor of immigration reform in Illinois. “But I do feel bad because this can happen to anyone. One day you have a happy family and the next day your father is gone.”
Advocacy groups, businesses, religious organizations and individuals have organized events in different cities, which include marches, rallies, prayer vigils, community gatherings and concerts.
The events center around three demands: opposition to militarization of borders, support for a immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and an end to deportations and the division of families through deportations, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in a Capitol news conference Thursday.
“The community and the broad coalition is not only still hungry for immigration reform, the country still supports immigration reform,” said Gutierrez, who has been pushing for communities to participate in the events.
In Sacramento, Calif., Estefany Mendez will march with a group of about 1,000 people, all in support of immigration reform. The 24-year-old immigrant has benefited from Deferred Action but continues to fight for a legal status for her and her family.
“I am able to get a driver’s license but I don’t have legal status,” Mendez said. “I want to keep fighting.”
Other events in California include a rally San Francisco, where thousands are expected in front of the offices of House Minority Leader and Democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. There will be a “March of the Butterfly” in Sonoma County to symbolize the “migratory species,” where about 500 people are expected and a “Rock Concert for Immigration” is scheduled in Bakersfield. Reggae, hip-hop, metal and rock-and-roll bands will be performing for free in the event estimated to attract more than 2,000 people.
“We have done a lot of rallies and marches so we decided to do something non-traditional and different,” said Ann Cervantes, who has been organizing the event and the voting registration that will be offered at the concert. “With our community and civic engagement we started to gain momentum and this started to take a life of its own with very limited budget.”
Throughout the country, organizers have relied on radio DJ’s, celebrities and various government officials in favor of immigration reform to get the word out about the events.
Other cities doing alternative events include Kansas City, which is holding a “community potluck,” where members will share a meal together and learn a unique salsa recipe.
“Sharing food, fellowship breaks down the barriers,” said Andrew Kling, organizing the event.
In Austin, Tex., activists have focused a rally on the “benefits of immigration, the positive view of immigrants and what immigrants give to our society,” said organizer Alejandro Caceres. Thanks to radio DJs, they are expecting about 500 people.
“We are giving the microphone to immigrants in our community so that government can listen to them and then make legislation,” he said. Other rallies will take place in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
In Ohio, immigration activists will be joined by others from Kentucky and Indiana who will march and unite in front of the offices of Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner. Organizers said they hope to get Boehner to “end the shutdown and get back to work with immigration.”
Saturday’s events will culminate in a rally on October 8th in Washington D.C.
Benito Gomez, an immigrant who was also part of the pilgrimage walk in Illinois, said he hopes the events will shed light on the individual stories and help immigrants come “out of the shadows.”
For Gomez, it’s the fact that he has not been able to see his wife and kids for almost ten years.
“I deserve an opportunity. I am a working man, who has always paid taxes and contributed to this country just as much as any other American,” he said.
“We all have different stories and walk for different reasons,” Gomez said. “But at the end of the day what we all want is justice.”