I never go to political rallies. This is not for lack of opportunity, given that I live in the Washington, D.C., area. Yet this one was different. I felt a moral obligation to be there. As an immigrant myself, this unresolved issue touches me and my family in profound ways.
The March for America immigration rally in Washington, D.C., on Sunday was overshadowed by the vote on health care reform in Congress, which attracted nearly all the attention of the press. Most of all, however, the rally was overshadowed by a society that has forgotten its roots. Every American of good will should have been on the National Mall last Sunday. Our past and our future as a nation were indeed there.
The United States’ past was there because this land is a land of immigrants. Most of us, if not all in one way or another, come from an immigrant family. If we go back through our family history, we will find parents or grandparents born in another country who came here searching for a better life.
But America’s future and the future of the whole world was also on the National Mall. Our world is increasingly a world of immigrants. This matter of people moving away from their place of birth is not going away in the near future; on the contrary, it is going to become a tougher and tougher issue for policymakers.
One thing is clear in my mind: Immigration reform is badly needed, not only in our country, but all over the world. In carrying out its own immigration reform, the United States has the opportunity not only to fix internal homeland problems but also to become a beacon for the world.
Europe is searching for a solution to its current immigration problem. Other parts of the world are being affected, too. Nobody seems to find an answer that puts away bigotry and xenophobia.
The United States is probably the one country in the world that is best positioned to provide a solution and blaze the path. Immigration is in our genes as a nation; we do not even need to search too deeply.
When I arrived at the National Mall on Sunday, I was surprised by the turnout of the “March for America,” as it was officially called. Its organizers were expecting 100,000 people, but attendance was estimated to have surpassed the 200,000 mark. Those present represented the entire age spectrum: full families, complete with young children, elders, teenagers, mothers and fathers. One thousand more or one thousand less, the gathering was impresionante!
Another thing that impressed me was the candor and the directness of the speeches. “President Obama, we got a promise from you. Now we want to see something,” said one of the speakers.
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Gustavo Torres, head of Casa de Maryland in Baltimore, another of the speakers, said clearly in Spanish and in English: “To political leaders, I always pose this question: Twenty years from now, will you be proud of the actions you have taken during this crisis? Well, I have news for you: with our electoral engagement and organizing, you may regret what you do sooner than you think. More than 10 million Latinos voted in 2008, the great majority for President Obama and this Congress, and one million more may join us in 2010 but only if they see concrete action.”
The concrete actions that Latinos and immigrants of other origins are expecting are better jobs, stopping unjust deportations, keeping families together, helping the children brought to this country by undocumented immigrants to have a path to citizenship, and finding a way to do a full-fledged immigration reform.
“Comprehensive immigration reform would recommit our country to being both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. Unless we reform the broken immigration system as a whole, we will fail to solve the problems at hand,” reads the march organizers’ Web site.
Rich Stolz, campaign manager for the group, writes in the blog:
“The necessary components of reform include: (1) improving the economic situation of all workers in the United States; (2) legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants working and living in the United States; (3) reforming visa programs to keep families together, protecting workers’ rights and ensuring that future immigration is regulated and controlled rather than illegal and chaotic; (4) implementing smart, effective enforcement measures targeted at the worst violators of immigration and labor laws; (5) prioritizing immigrant integration into our communities and country; and (6) respecting the due process rights of all in the United States.”
The organizers of the march were quite pleased with the proposals coming last week from Sens. Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham in regard to a plan for immigration reform. Among their proposals are biometric Social Security cards, strengthening border security and finding a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants living in the United States. They also suggested attracting skilled immigrants, who have doctoral and master’s degrees, with green cards.
Prominent speakers included New Jersey Rep. Robert Menendez and President Obama himself, who addressed the crowd from a video recording.
It was an afternoon filled with hope, good vibes, deep emotion.
If feelings and emotions count – and for Latinos they do count more than rational thinking – Sunday’s march had a powerful emotional impact. Let us hope that this time emotions will be translated into actions, and that these actions will inform a better living for millions of people in our country and the rest of the world.
Daniel Carro, originally from Argentina, is professor of divinity at The John Leland Center for Theological Studies, in Arlington, Va. He is also Latino Kingdom Advance Ambassador with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.