Participants in Sunday’s rally for immigration reform at the National Mall may have numbered in the tens of thousands, but their chants carried one message: “Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha.” Obama listen, we are in the fight.
The immigrants and activists present, including over 100 Georgetown students waving American flags and signs, sought to pressure the Obama administration to jumpstart immigration reform, which has been at a standstill since the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 floundered in the Senate.
At 1 p.m., about 115 Georgetown students representing the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, United Feminists, GU Pride, the Cuban-American Student Association, Ritmo Y Sabor, Ballet Folklorico, GU College Democrats, Student Commission for Unity, NAACP and other students not affiliated with these organizations met on Healy Lawn to begin their march to the Capitol.
“The march was to help bring awareness to the issue,” rally participant Donna Hernandez (SFS ’13) said. “It is not an issue for a marginalized group, it is a human rights issue that every citizen of the United States should be concerned with because everyone is affected by it either directly or indirectly.”
Frances Davila (SFS ’10) and Joshua Guzman (SFS ’10), MEChA de Georgetown co-chairs, hoped the march would foster unity amid diversity by mobilizing the Georgetown coalition – composed of students from a varied set of backgrounds – around a single cause.
“The solidarity around this issue was focused on pressuring Congress and Obama to push for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would include a path to legalization for immigrants who have served this country,” Davila said.
“The fact that so many students showed up illustrates how deeply committed students are to issues that do not necessarily have to affect them, but are still willing to challenge a broken system that discriminates [against] immigrants, in a nation that was founded by immigrants,” Davila said.
After trekking from the Hilltop to the Capitol, many of the students were moved by the level of support from the university community.
“I was completely impressed by student support because I only expected no more than 30,” MEChA member Francisco Gutierrez (MSB ’13) said. “We marched through the streets, proud to be Americans, and embraced our immigrant roots. As we shouted `Hoya Saxa,’ we knew Georgetown University was making history. We are happy to be part of this history.”
The Georgetown contingent made its way down M Street and along Pennsylvania Avenue en route to Constitution Avenue. For the majority of the group, the march was about more than a cause – it was personal.
“Both my parents are immigrants,” said Hernandez, a member of MEChA. “My dad came from Mexico when he was a little kid, and my mom is a refugee from El Salvador. I was raised with[out knowledge of] the issues [of immigration], and now I can fully grasp that I was lucky to have been born in the U.S.”
Neil Quinn (SFS ’13) said that he did not know what to expect before he arrived at the Capitol. As the Georgetown group joined the other marchers, however, their presence was strong. When presenting his reasons for supporting the reforms, he cited a need for pragmatic thinking.
“In some ways, it was a march for amnesty,” Quinn said. “Although it may be a bitter pill for some, any real immigration reform will need to include some form of amnesty. It would be completely impractical . to try to round up and deport the millions of undocumented immigrants who have become an indivisible part of their nation’s economic and social fabric.”
In a statement released by Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, one of the primary organizations that has opposed immigration reform, William Gheen, president of ALIPAC, argued that the March for America is actually a “March Against America.”
“These marchers are advocating the overthrow of American laws, sovereignty and the self-governance of American citizens who want our immigration laws adequately enforced, to be a significant deterrent to illegal immigration,” Gheen said in the press release.
Davila, along with many supporters of immigration reform, argued against ALIPAC’s claim that opposition groups can undermine the immigrant experience.
“If they mean forgiving undocumented immigrants for breaking the law, then I would challenge how clear-cut they are making the immigrant experience out to be,” Davila said. “How do you account for the children who entered this country at a very young [age], having no agency over crossing a border, and grow up in this country?”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who was unable to attend the rally because the health care bill was on the floor of the House at the time, issued a statement of support to the immigrants at the rally.
“Count me with my Hispanic and other immigrant friends, allies and constituents in reminding Congress and the administration that comprehensive immigration reform is too important to drop off the nation’s priority agenda,” Norton said in the press release.
The activists and immigrants made it clear that they would continue to fight for their cause.
“The march has proven that immigration reform can no longer be dismissed and that the voices can no longer be ignored,” Yasmin Seratto (SFS ’13) said. “