As the bipartisan Gang of Eight continues to draft comprehensive, commonsense immigration policy legislation, thousands of activists, families and supporters of all ages and nationalities flooded the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday for the “April 10: The Time Is Now” rally for immigration policy reform with a road map to citizenship.
A crowd estimated at more than 30,000 shouted “Sí, se puede!”—yes, we can—as a diverse series of speakers from unions, civil rights groups, faith organizations and the U.S. Senate and House took to the stage to express their support.
Maryland state Sen. Victor Ramirez (D) told the crowd:
As our nation’s first president George Washington said in 1773 while addressing Irish immigrants, ‘The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent or respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religion whom we shall welcome to a participation of all of our rights and privileges.'
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a member of the Gang of Eight, fired up the crowd with words that visibly touched the rally’s attendees:
As every honest American knows, if you had fruit for breakfast this morning, it was probably picked in the hot sun by an immigrant working with a bent back. We know that if you had chicken for dinner last night, it was probably plucked with the callous cut up hand of an immigrant worker. We know that if there is someone in your family who needs care, constant care, the chances are that it is an immigrant worker whose steady hand and warm heart is taking care of their daily necessities.…it’s time to give them the dignity that they deserve and the opportunity to earn their way to the American Dream.
Between the bilingual speeches, spirits remained high as attendees were treated with performances by Alvaro Torres and immigrant rights activist and Grammy-winning artist Olga Tañon. Bachata music sensation Andy Andy also performed two of his most popular numbers and gave an impromptu Bachata lesson.
Roberta Pacheco, a student at Montgomery College who took time off from class to be there, said, “I’ve been here since noon. It’s now almost 5:30 p.m. and I could not be more fired up!” He added, excitedly:
Immigration reform will pass this year. Look around! I know that because of the thousands of people here today, who have taken time off from work and who have taken time off from school, who’ve taken 12-hourlong bus rides to get here, who have been here in the hot sun for six hours, who are just hoping for a better life and future, will accept nothing less! We’re going to push Congress.
In his speech, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) echoed Pacheco’s sentiment:
We’ve gotten behind the DREAMers, now we have 500,000 young men and women, undocumented youth who are safe from deportation and now we say bring your moms and your dads out of the shadows, too….Work hard, push us, keep pushing us and together we will deliver immigration reform this year. There are no acceptable excuses failing to pass immigration reform this year and no excuses will be accepted.
NAACP CEO and President Benjamin Jealous also gave a speech highlighting the intersection of civil rights and immigrant rights.
Fifty years ago right here on this mall, Martin Luther King [Jr.] and the NAACP stepped forward to call for the end of segregation and with it the end of the white-only immigration policy, and we do so because we said that in this country there will be no second-class families.
He continued saying the rally and the growing support for comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship is “ultimately in the interest of all of our children.”
We are gathered here today to ensure that every child who grows up here, who graduates college here, is able to stay here, work here and raise their families here, because in this country there will be no second-class families.
With the bill expected to be introduced within the next week, supporters believe history is on their side. Said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland:
We’ve been through this before, but this time it’s different. We are different, and Washington is different. The politicians can’t ignore us now. We will become citizens, and we will vote.