Hundreds of demonstrators descended on Washington D.C. on May 1 to mark International Workers’ Day and to call for US immigration reform. Many families and small children were among the demonstrators, most of whom were Latin American who had travelled from states such as Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
One of the demonstrators, Edgar Aranda of Martinsville, Virginia said: “In Virginia, we have more than 140,000 people who are essential workers and they deserve legalization. They deserve more opportunities in this country.”
The demonstration, described as ‘peaceful and well-organized’, filled streets for more than two blocks. It was sponsored by several groups and coordinated by Casa and the Service Employees International Union.
Pathway to citizenship
The Service Employees International Union is advocating for a pathway to US citizenship for America’s undocumented immigrants.
A woman participating in the demonstration, who identified herself as Yatziri, said: “We’re here all the way from New York to remind President Biden that he owes us a promise, to a lot of immigrants in this country, who throughout the pandemic have been working as essential workers…he needs to provide relief to our community and that means passing a pathway to citizenship.”
Those demonstrating started in Black Lives Mater Plaza, before heading to the White House and the Capitol building along Pennsylvania Avenue. The crowd were chanting in multiple languages and waving banners while dancing to the beat of a band.
Some of the chants heard included: “This is what democracy looks like!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!”
Similar chants were heard during the Black Lives Matter protests.
More than a good bill
Virginia director for the immigrant rights organization Casa, Luis Aguilar, said: “After 100 days of the Biden administration, we want more than just a good bill. We want something that becomes actual law. We want actual policy.
Aguilar, who is also a DACA recipient, conceded that pushing through major US immigration policy changes will be difficult amid a deeply divided Congress, but said that a ‘real solution is required urgently’.
The Virginia director for Casa said: “We started at Black Lives Matter Plaza because we know that this is not about Latinos or about a specific race. This is all types of colors, black, white, Asian…we have to be united and together.”
“Finally, workers and oppressed people and poor people are coming together and saying, ‘Hey, enough is enough,’” Aguilar added.
Outside the Capitol building, speakers took turns sharing stories, while several musical groups sang songs about the experiences of immigrant workers.
Amid the calls for US immigration reform, Aguilar did highlight that a recent policy change had allowed for undocumented immigrants to apply for driving licenses in Virginia. However, he said that while this was a step in the right direction, local governments can do ‘much more’.
Some areas Aguilar highlighted where local governments could do more included fully ending information sharing between local police forces and US immigration agencies and helping immigrant communities devastated by the pandemic.
Aguilar said: “When the stimulus, the relief happened for people, it did not happen for immigrant families. Localities could have done something about it. Some localities did something very small…They discount communities, immigrant communities, as if they don’t matter.”
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