Thousands attend D.C. immigration rally

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By 5:30 a.m., Elena and her daughter had brushed their teeth, dressed and had eaten their breakfast of a banana fruit smoothie. They then walked two blocks to a pick up location in Jackson Heights and met another 90 people. All would travel 306 miles to Washington, D.C. – and back – in just one day. Elena didn’t seem phased by the distance.

“I am thinking about this is as a first step,” she said. “I hope President [Barack] Obama moves forward on immigration reform sometime soon because we need it and we haven’t forgotten the promise he made during his election. We’re going to keep pressuring him until we see results.”

Elena, an undocumented Mexican, joined thousands of other documented and undocumented residents from across the country at a rally on the National Mall on Sunday, March 21. These immigration reform advocates and political officials had wanted Obama to tackle the controversial issue in 2009, but instead the government got swept up with health care reform. However, on that same fateful and historic day, health care reform passed and now the immigrants hoped it was their turn.

“The March for America was inspiring,” stated Adam Skarbinski, an English as a Second Language instructor at Queens Community House, the Jackson Heights organization that Elena travelled with. “It was a positive experience and I hope President Obama and Congress act soon and make immigration reform a reality.”

In December 2009, Congressmembers Joseph Crowley, Nydia Velazquez, and Anthony Weiner joined Illinois Congressmember Luis Gutierrez as he introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP). The bill, H.R. 4321, currently has 94 co-sponsors.

Recently, Obama met with Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham and discussed the framework of the Senate bill.

“Those were critical first steps, which built on the hard work of Representative Gutierrez in the House, but they were only first steps,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, who delivered her remarks near the end of the day. “And they happened because they knew we were mobilizing tens of thousands of people across the nation.”

This march on Washington also encouraged Elena to mobilize. For the past 15 years that she has been in the U.S., Elena has taken the worse jobs and has had to deal with unscrupulous employers who refused to pay her. Elena said she understood her undocumented status was seen by many as criminal. But she insisted that, despite her trials and tribulations, she would come to the U.S. all over again.

“It is better to be here than in my country, where things are always worse,” she said. “Now I think about my daughter, her well-being. She’s from here … and for me, the U.S. is my home.”