Thousands flock to nation's capital for immigration reform

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On an unseasonably sweltering spring day in Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of immigration rights supporters filled half of the mall on the west side of the U.S. Capitol building to join the Rally for Citizenship. The date, April 10, had significance for the immigration reform movement because seven years ago, in 70 cities, immigration rights advocates showed their muscle by rising up to successfully oppose anti-immigrant legislation in Congress.

This year, the stakes are even higher as immigration reform bills are expected to be introduced in the Senate within the next few days. (The AFT is urging members to tell their U.S. senators to support meaningful immigration reform.)

Immigration Rally, DC, 4/10/13

For the first time in more than 20 years, immigration rights supporters gathered not to oppose a draconian anti-immigrant or anti-labor law but to call for construction of a new path forward. The rally attracted supporters from across the country advocating for a road map to citizenship for 11 million undocumented men, women and children, and the crowd could sense that victory—"la victoria!"—was within sight.

The rally brought together people from every sector—labor, the religious community, the arts, and local and national elected officials—as well as workers, students and families who were relative newcomers to the United States.

The crowd of aspiring Americans and their supporters heard the stories of AFT member Ian Cainglet, a Filipino math teacher recruited to teach in Louisiana, then subjected to abuse; Education Austin vice president Montserrat Garibay, who just became a citizen five months ago; and DREAMer and Immigration Equality grass-roots organizer Marco Antonio Quiroga. Cainglet spoke earlier in the day at a media event sponsored by the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.

AFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence represented the AFT on a stage filled with labor leaders who were saying, in every way and language possible: The time is now to fix the United States' broken immigration system. "We're in the fight with you until we get comprehensive immigration reform," said Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers Union. "That means we will demand that families be united and that all workers have the right to collectively bargain for fair wages."

Elected officials also took to the stage just outside their workplace. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) spoke of the urgency undocumented families and immigrant rights supporters feel as deportations continue at a rate of 1,400 a day. He advised the activists to raise the pressure on their representatives: "The time is now. Work hard, push us, keep pushing us, and together we will pass immigration reform this year."

Immigration Rally, DC, 4/10/13

Rally speakers suggested that a bill may be proposed in the Senate by next week or as early as Friday.

The rally was sponsored by the Alliance for Citizenship and 11 organizations including the AFT, and more than 100 organizations participated. Parallel events were held in more than 100 locations in 20 states. The April 10 events were the high point of a National Week of Action for Citizenship that included lobbying in Washington, D.C., and in congressional districts around the country.

The AFT and its affiliates have been working for more than 10 years in support of immigration reform, focused initially on passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would give students who came to this country at a young age—known as DREAMers—an opportunity to pursue a college degree or serve in the military to qualify for citizenship.

Four years ago, labor and the AFT worked with community- and faith-based groups to create a broader framework for immigration reform that reflects the shared values of dignity, fairness, opportunity, voice and justice.

"Commonsense, comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform is long overdue," AFT president Randi Weingarten has emphasized in the past few months, as a bipartisan group of senators has been working to craft a meaningful bill. A proposed bill is expected from the House of Representatives as well. (See related story.)

To learn more about the AFT's support for immigration reform, go to go.aft.org/immigration. [Barbara McKenna, Cesar Moreno Perez/photos by Bill Burke-Page One/video by Matthew Jones and Brett Sherman]

April 11, 2013