Dreamers March in D.C. for Immigration Reform
DreamActivist PA, in conjunction with the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia and RIFA, sent a bus to the March for America yesterday to join the 200,000 people calling for comprehensive immigration reform from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The bus was filled with students from Temple University and UPenn who had been mobilized by student leaders.
Once in D.C., we hurried to the Capitol to try to catch up with the DREAM Act march proceeding from Lower Senate Park to the rally site on the Mall. We got word the Dreamers were in front of the Capitol and thought we had spotted them. We were on our way over to join them when Mark pointed out that the yellow flags the crowd of 200 or so were waving were not immigration reform flags but "Don't Tread on Me" flags. We had narrowly missed joining up with the Tea Partiers protesting the impending passage of the health care reform bill! While this would have made for some interesting political theater, it wasn't how we wanted to spend our day.
We passed a few more Tea Partiers on our way to the rally site. One held a sign saying "Small Government = Freedom." I had to agree--paring back DHS's immigration enforcement budget would do more to promote individual freedom in the U.S. than almost any other cost-cutting measure.
Once at the rally site, we finally met up with the Dream contingent. I met for the first time in person Kemi (Texas), Juan (Florida), Mo (Michigan), and Matias (California) from DreamActivist, which was very exciting for me! Mo could barely stand still for a minute or two before running off to coordinate something or other, which is just what I expected from my earlier long-distance interactions with him.
I heard the MC announcing that President Obama was about to speak and jumped to my feet. As I heard his pre-recorded message of solidarity with the marchers, I felt anger boiling up inside. He spoke of families torn apart under the current system and I wondered why his administration continues to make forced family separation a reality. He has the power to stop detaining entire families in Pennsylvania, to grant deferred action status to Dream-eligible youth pending a vote on the Dream Act, to call a halt to the midnight home raids that terrorize communities, to instruct USCIS to interpret the laws on family reunification in a less restrictive way, to enact enforceable detention regulations. There are many things he could do right now that fall within the proper discretion of the Executive, but he chooses not to do them. But he talks about his unwavering commitment to immigration reform, his sorrow at the children torn from their parents' arms. He feels immigrants' pain; he also causes it. I have heard enough empty promises from President Obama. At this point, I have a hard time believing anything he says about immigration reform.
I asked Maria of DreamActivist PA for her take on the march and specifically Obama's address:
I don't want to say I'm giving up hope but he is saying what he needs to say to appease the crowd. I know he's committed, but we need action, not the same old talk. A simple thing like passing the Dream Act, which has overwhelming support, would be a huge step.
At around 4:00 p.m., Mo and Matias organized the Dream contingent under a huge American flag carrying the message "Pass the Dream Act Now" and we marched to the front of the crowd, chanting, just as Carlos Saavedra of United We Dream spoke to the crowd.
Then a video played remotely from the four walkers on the Trail of Dreams in South Carolina, which Maria described as "overwhelming."
Our forward progress was stopped when we came up against a fence. Mo seemed intent on going over it and for a moment I thought, "Oh no, we're going to rush the stage and we'll all be arrested." Luckily the organizers decided instead to give out passes to the Dream group and we entered the reserved area right in front of the stage. Pastor Kaper-Dale from Highland Park, NJ, spoke along with a parishioner, Harry Pangemanan, who was arrested and detained and narrowly escaped deportation because of his pastor's extraordinary efforts to keep him in the country. Pastor Kaper-Dale spoke about how one family's story had a happy ending, but every story should; instead, too many families are split apart.
We left the rally just after Los Lonely Boys played a couple of songs, inspiring Dreamers to dance around under the massive flag.
Mo ran into Josh Bernstein from SEIU--they have worked together very effectively behind the scenes to stop deportations of Dreamers in individual public campaigns like that of Herta Llusho.
On the way back to the bus, we passed Alonso Chehade, who has created a successful public campaign to stop his own deportation in Washington state.
It was an uplifting day, but frustration set in when I realized how little media coverage the massive rally received in light of the historic health care reform vote the same day. "What more do we have to do?" some may wonder.
My answer is this: Before we can seriously expect to change the immigration laws, we need to change this country. We need to replace fear with hope, derision with respect, ignorance with understanding. I believe the best hope for that change comes from the undocumented student movement now mobilizing around passage of the Dream Act. Finished being tokenized in support of further punitive immigration policies, Dreamers have come into their own and are pushing things forward now in ways politicians and institutions will be unable to control. And that is just what the immigrant rights movement needs.
March 21, 2010, marked a high point in recent years as the largest public display of support for immigration reform since 2006. It may also have marked the end for now of a unified coalition in support of comprehensive reform, a goal that has remained frustratingly unattainable as the national strategy has remained essentially unchanged since CIR crashed and burned in 2007.
Enough excuses. Pass the Dream Act. Pass it now.
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