Yesterday, over 500 immigrants, community members, faith leaders and advocates gathered on the chilly streets of Washington DC to march for immigrant rights. They were there to celebrate a New Day for Immigration in this country, marked by Obama’s inauguration as President.
The crowd marched to ICE headquarters in DC, singing songs, beating drums, and carrying a giant American flag – symbolizing the idea of immigrant America. From the Washington Post:
Although the demonstration featured many speeches in Spanish and cries of “Sí se puede!” — Yes we can! — the crowd was also notable for its diversity. Suely Neves, 26, of the Boston group Deported Diaspora had come on behalf of her fellow Cape Verde immigrants. Standing next to her, Indian American immigrant Dimple Rana, 28, said she was concerned about the fate of the Cambodian refugees she works with in Lowell, Mass.
With the giant American flag waving overhead, and hundreds of immigrants marching for freedom and equal rights, I cannot help but be reminded of a portion of Obama’s inaugural speech. In talking about “reaffirming the greatness of our nation”, the new President noted that the path towards freedom and equality has never been for the “faint-hearted”.
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
America is a country of immigrants. Yesterday, these marchers gathered to call for an end to the fear, to the violence and to the punitive immigration policies that have destroyed families, communities and lives. One of the main points of the action was to call for “Reform not Raids”, signaling an end to Bush-era enforcement only tactics that saw a dramatic spike of workplace and home raids by ICE agents.
As a part of this New Day and new hope for immigration reform and an end to the raids, religious leaders held a “cleansing” ceremony to rid the ICE headquarters of the last 8 years of injustice.
Margarito Esquino, an activist for indigenous rights in El Salvador, lit incense and waved condor feathers toward the sky, shouting in Spanish, “O Great Spirit, we ask you to get rid of all the badness in this building and bring in the good!”
Rabbi David Schneyer, of the Am Kolel Sanctuary and Renewal Center in Beallsville, blew on a shofar, a ram’s horn traditionally sounded for the Jewish new year.
The Rev. Frederick Hancock of Gethsemane United Methodist Church in Capitol Heights performed a libation ceremony meant to evoke African ancestral rituals, pouring grape juice — symbolizing wine — onto the roots of a potted plant as he called for strength from civil rights icons such as Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.
After the ceremony, the crowd gathered at a local church for a Community Forum, complete with immigrant testimonials of injustice and a visit from Senator Luis Gutierrez, a true champion of Just and Humane immigration Reform on Capitol Hill.
One immigrant talked of his harrowing experience during an ICE workplace raid. He was one of over 130 workers who were rounded up and placed in “tanks” with no bathrooms and no heat, even though the day was a frigid one. Their arms and legs were handcuffed and shackled. When they asked to use the bathroom, they were laughed at and mocked by ICE agents. They spent the entire day, in these inhumane conditions, being shuffled from one detention center to another.
Another spoke of watching her son, a Latino, being brutally beaten by police. She said the police stopped when he began to speak English to them. She also mentioned the recent pardons of two Border Patrol agents who murdered an immigrant with unjust cause. She said that more education was needed and that the racism present in the immigration debate had to be done away with.
All of the testimonies are being compiled into an official report that will be delivered to the Obama administration by Congressman Gutierrez, with the demand for a moratorium on the raids and an official investigation into unjust ICE practices.
A New Day for immigrants in America is dawning, and those present at the events across the nation yesterday have renewed their commitment to work for justice and comprehensive reform.