Posted April 11, 2006 –Hundreds of thousands of boisterous, vocal but peaceful protesters jammed streets and parks from Washington, D.C. to California to support undocumented immigrants in their quest for respect, green cards and, perhaps, U.S. citizenship.
In the nation’s capital, immigrants, their families and others rallied within shouting distance of Congress, demanding a better life, job security, justice and equality for approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants.
“I came out to support minority rights,” said Howard University graduating senior Aminata Jutte, 22. “Immigrant rights are not just for Latinos but for all immigrants. As a person of African and Latino descent, I see racial inequality, disparities in the economy and racial superiority which has been deeply embedded since this country was created.”
In Garden City, Kansas, 3,000 people rallied, and large crowds spilled over in Lower Manhattan in New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Mississippi where the crowd sang "We Shall Overcome" in Spanish.
Jutte, a New York resident born in the Dominican Republic, said the massive demonstration marks a new national reality. The stunning numbers of people all over the country illustrate the threat they see and are reacting to. If there was no legislation pending or if it was just a rumor, then people might not be so concerned, but “legislation is on the brink of passing,” she said.
In an informal poll posted on BET.com, about 50 percent of users said that immigrants who have entered the country illegally should not be allowed to stay in the United States. Forty percent of respondents disagreed, saying they believed strongly that whether immigrants are here illegally or not, they provide a much-needed service to the American people.
Immigration opponents cite border control and security concerns, while politicians worry that allowing undocumented immigrants to file for residency would leave them open to having voted for amnesty, in effect legitimizing illegal entry into the country.
One woman, a resident of Columbia Heights in Washington, D.C., said she wishes all undocumented immigrants could be shipped out. The woman, an African American, said she has watched with concern and increasing agitation as Latinos have poured into her neighborhood.
“I don’t feel any sympathy for them or their plight,” she said. “I’m tired of seeing drunk Spanish men lying on the street or on our thresholds. The government needs to send them all home.”
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For Jomo Graham, there was never any doubt that he would be on the Mall. The San Diego native, married to a Salvadoran, said it was time once-silent voices were heard.
“I think there has to be a more honest and just policy for immigrants,” he said. “I think we have had enough of policies that are inhumane and which marginalize and scapegoat those who are the backbone of America’s economy.”
Graham’s wife, Marta, bubbled with enthusiasm.
“It’s beautiful, it’s so emotional,” she gushed. “We can’t go back. I am an immigrant and I vote. This is a racist, anti-Latino agenda focused on us. It’s a hateful agenda, but people have been marching for the last month, which shows that we’re not willing to go without a fight.
“I think this will send a message to Congress and America. We’re politically invested and we’re marching today.”
The Grahams spoke against a backdrop of chants and shouts which reverberated off buildings nearby. It took little for the vast crowd to wave flags and placards and roar to signify their presence. One of the most common chants was, “"Si se puede! " which means "Yes, we can!"
Unlike in earlier protests, most protesters carried or wore American flags. Interspersed in a sea of American flags, however, was a smattering of Honduran, Salvadoran, Mexican and Bolivian flags. Flags were fashioned into headbands, bandanas, neckerchiefs and super-hero-like capes.
Posters and placards captured protest sentiment: “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote”; “We’re Not the Problem, We’re Part of the Solution,”; “We’re Here, We’re Not Going Anywhere”; and “The Pilgrims Were Immigrants Too.”
Several speakers invoked the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. Demonstrators and speakers exulted at the prospect of finally flexing their politic muscle.
Alexandra Abraca, 45, held up a large placard and walked resolutely in the middle of the throng.
“I’m here because I want to support my people,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair what they are doing. This is a nation of immigrants including Sen. (Bill) Frist (R-Tenn.), President Bush and other politicians, regardless of how long they have been here.
“They have got it all wrong. A lot of people are paying taxes, working hard, trying to get a green card and citizenship.”
A native of El Salvador, Abarca has lived in the United States for 40 years, was married in America and has two children – including a son who served in the U.S. Army – yet “both of my children are still discriminated against even with college degrees,” she said.
Those who faced unspeakable hardships to reach the United States would stay at home if circumstances allowed, she said.
“Salvadorans are here because of the war in our country that Ronald Reagan supported,” she said, referring to a deadly 12-year civil war. “A lot of people were killed, there were no jobs, and people had to flee.”
She and others said they hope Congress gives undocumented immigrants a fair shot. It’s not clear when that might happen. Congress adjourned for a two-week Easter break before agreeing on a compromise plan to overhaul immigration law.
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