Tens of thousands of immigrants from around the country joined allies from the labor movement and beyond to “Rally for Citizenship” Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The demonstrators urged Congress to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws and provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents. Among those who came to push for reform were farm workers from California and house cleaners from Alabama. They were joined by youth activists brought to the country by their parents, only to struggle to attend college or find work after graduating from high school because of their undocumented status. We hear from some of the voices to address the rally: 17-year-old DREAM activist Katherine Tabares of New York; NAACP President Benjamin Jealous; and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators drafting a joint immigration bill. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tens of thousands of immigrants from around the country joined allies from the labor movement and beyond to “Rally for Citizenship” Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Organizers said they hoped to shape a comprehensive reform bill that would be the first overhaul of the immigration laws since 1986. The deal is being written by a bipartisan group of eight Democratic and Republican senators. The deal will reportedly require greatly increased surveillance and policing near the U.S.-Mexico border. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. immigration officials would have to certify complete monitoring of the southern U.S. border and a 90 percent success rate in blocking unlawful entry in certain areas. Only then could the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants apply for permanent residency. The process is expected to take at least 10 years.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with some of the voices from yesterday’s rally on the National Mall. Among those who came to push for reform were farm workers from California, house cleaners from Alabama. They were joined by youth activists brought to the country by their parents, only to struggle to attend college or find work after graduating from high school because of their undocumented status. This is 17-year-old Katherine Tabares of New York addressing the crowd as her mother stood alongside her on stage.
KATHERINE TABARES: Today I am here not to talk about my story anymore, but I want to talk about this amazing woman who’s next to me, my hero. She’s my mother. As you stand—as you stand here today, I want you to look around to all the people who is surrounding you. We’re all here fighting for our immigrant justice and all of the rights that we have. You know, as you stand here, I also want you to think about your mother, your father, your cousins, your uncles, all your family members, and think about their dreams and all the sacrifices they’ve made to keep us here together in this country. We are here because of them. We are here because of all of us. This is a movement y vamos a pasar una reforma migratoria.
You know, a couple of months ago before today, I asked my mother, “Mom, what is your dream, right?” And what she told me is, “Katherine, my dream is to be healthy so I can give you a future full of opportunities and success like I never had before.” This moved me a lot. But, you know, this inspired me, and it is my motivation for me to be here today and for us to be here today. But let’s think about this. They are the original DREAMers. You know, we need a comprehensive immigration reform that is inclusive with every single member of our community. My mother and I migrated from Colombia almost three years ago. And since that moment, yes, since that moment, there haven’t been a day that this amazing woman takes a break from being a mother, a father, a best friend, and the most amazing human being that I’ve ever known. So, gracias a todas las mamás y a todas las familias por estar acá.
She works as a home health aide from Monday until Sunday. And every afternoon when I am at school dedicating my soul to education, she is at home getting ready to go to work to do an arduous job that is very hard to do. And it is unacceptable—it is unacceptable that the system does not recognize my mother for who she is because we don’t have a regular immigration status. I am tired, just as many of you are tired, of seeing our parents being oppressed and denied of work opportunities, not because of their skills—because they are very talented—but because of a nine-number digit that supposedly defines a person in the United States, when it should not.
That’s why we are here today, to fight for our rights, to fight for a change in the current immigration policy. We’re sending a message that the time to do right has come to pass an immigration reform with a path to citizenship that will include every single member of our community and will not leave anybody behind. We’re fighting for equality for all undocumented and documented immigrants, for families that are here today, for families that are back home, and for families that have been separated because of our immigration system right now. ¿Qué es lo qué queremos?
CROWD: ¡Reforma migratoria!
KATHERINE TABARES: No escucho. ¿Qué queremos?
CROWD: ¡Reforma migratoria!
KATHERINE TABARES: ¿Y cuando?
KATHERINE TABARES: ¿Y cuando?
KATHERINE TABARES: ¡Sí, se puede!
CROWD: ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was 17-year-old Katherine Tabares of New York addressing the Rally for Citizenship Wednesday as her mother stood next to her. The event also featured speakers from the Congressional Asian Pacific American and Black Caucuses, the SEIU and other unions, Greenpeace and LGBT rights groups. The keynote speaker was NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: I am joined today on stage by members of the NAACP, leaders in the NAACP who marched last year from Selma to Montgomery to fight H.B. 56, who organized in Maryland last year to help pass the DREAM Act. And I am joined on stage by other brothers and sisters who were born in the Caribbean, who were born in Africa, and all of us together, and say that the time is now for comprehensive immigration reform.
But let us all reflect for a moment on how we got to the place that we are today and focus for a moment on where we need to go from here. Join me, if you will. Think for a second about the last time you were in a public classroom or at a citizenship induction ceremony, and you heard somebody say the pledge. And it got to that last part that tells us what this great U.S. of A. stands for. You know the part: “And to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!” Why do we say that? We say that because in this country it is our conviction that there are, that there will be, no second-class families.
Now, to be sure, our nation was not always a nation, and even after it became one, we were not clear that our destiny was to even be one nation or that we would insist on having liberty and justice for all our brothers and sisters. In the history of this nation, there have been moments of fear and confusion, and even decades and centuries where we strayed off course. And yet, the history of our nation shows us, as Dr. King told us, that the arc will always be bent towards justice, that our destiny is to be one nation. And if you look in history, you see small groups of people, like us here today, who have always stepped forward at those key moments in history to say, “Let us have the courage of our national convictions, and let us truly chart our course towards that day when America truly has no second-class families!”
Think about it, brothers and sisters. Three hundred and fifty years ago, not far from here in Virginia, there was the first of what would be many slave rebellions. It was actually Irish indentured servants and African slaves who stood up, shoulder to shoulder, to rebel against the king of England, who said that their children would forever be indentured servants and forever be slaves. And from that moment forward, the struggle has always been about our children, because in this country, as they said then, there will be no second-class families!
And then 150 years ago, again across the road in Virginia and up here at the Capitol, there was confusion. The Civil War had just ended. Our nation was a nation again, and there was this question: What happens to black people in this country? And what happens to those white families who joined the Confederacy in treason against their own country? What happens to them? And there was a great compromise called the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, that said, We don’t care what your parents did, and we don’t care what status your parents had, and we don’t care where your parents came; if you were born here, you will be a citizen, because in this country, there will be no second-class families!
And then 50 years ago, right here on this Mall, this summer, Dr. Martin Luther King, the NAACP stepped forward to call for the end of segregation and, with it, the end of the whites-only immigration policy. And we did so because we said, in this country, there will be no second-class families!
And so, we are gathered here today ultimately in the interest of all of our children. We are gathered here today to say, Let us ensure that every child who grows up here, who graduates college here, is able to stay here, work here and raise their family here and be citizens of this country, because in this country there will be no second-class families! Let us ensure that those 11 million people who have come here, worked hard here, paid taxes here and forge for a better future for their families here, and yet whose loved ones are somewhere else wanting to come here—let us stand up and say, “Make them citizens, and let their family join them as citizens, because in this country there will be no second-class families!”
And finally, we say it is time, it is the time now, to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It is time now for commonsense solutions that uphold our nation’s values and solve this problem going forward, because the destiny of our nation is to be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, because in America there will be no second-class families! God bless! _¡Sí, se puede!
AMY GOODMAN: That was NAACP President Benjamin Jealous delivering the keynote address at Wednesday’s rally for citizenship. When we return, we’ll hear from Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators.
AMY GOODMAN: The song, “El Hielo (ICE)” by La Santa Cecilia. They performed Wednesday at the Rally for Citizenship on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Their video chronicles the daily fear many immigrants face while seeking a better life here in the United States, featuring Erika Andiola, a DREAM activist whose mother was taken away when immigration agents raided their home. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. A shout out to the students from John Jay College for Criminal Justice who are visiting us today. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we continue our coverage of Wednesday’s Rally for Citizenship. Organizers said they hoped to shape a comprehensive reform bill that would be the first overhaul of immigration laws since 1986. Speakers included Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, one of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators crafting a compromise bill in the Senate right now.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ: It is in the nation’s interest, it is in our economic interest, it is in the security interest of the United States to have comprehensive immigration reform. We cannot know how to protect America if we do not know who is here to fulfill the American dream versus who is here to do it harm. We have to get those in the shadows into the light to have an opportunity to earn their citizenship and be part of the dream.
And we know—and we know, as does every American who is honest with themselves know, that if you had fruit for breakfast this morning, it was probably picked in the hot sun by an immigrant worker with a bent back and a sunburned skin. We know that if you had chicken for dinner last night, it was probably plucked by the calloused, cut-up hand of an immigrant worker to provide you your dinner. We know—we know that if someone in your family who needs care, constant care, the chances are that it is an immigrant worker whose steady hand and warm heart is taking care of their daily necessities each and every day. We know that some of the most successful high-tech companies in America were founded by an immigrant in the United States. These are people doing the jobs to build America, and it’s time to give them the dignity that they deserve and the opportunity to earn their way to the American dream. Y eso lo que vamos hacer en este Congreso, en este Senado, y en estos años.
The Gang—the Gang of Eight senators—
CROWD: ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ: The Gang of Eight senators, of which I am one, Democrats and Republicans, have come to an agreement on all the major issues. We are writing the bill as we speak. And it will be a strong foundation that we believe can be used at the Judiciary Committee starting next week, then moved to the Senate, given input into the House of Representatives, and ultimately sent to President Obama to sign.
Now, let me close by saying that there are still opponents to the idea of immigration reform, and we must join together. Hay esos que todavía se oponen a la reforma migratoria, y por eso tenemos que asegurar que en la unión esta la fuerza, en la union esta la fuerza, y si estamos unidos, sí, se puede. ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! Y si lo vamos a lograr, la justicia, la dignidad este es el momento.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Robert Menendez speaking at Wednesday’s Rally for Citizenship. The rally was held on the same day President Obama unveiled his budget that critics say calls for more and quicker deportations. This comes as a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill could be introduced in the coming days.