Mother and son at immigration rally in Washington DC. Photo credit: Nancy Shia

March in Washington DC demands President Biden to stop deportations, grant citizenship

“iPapeles Sí, Migajas No! (Papers Yes, Crumbs No!)” was the theme of a recent national immigration policies reform march and rally. 

Nearly 1,000 people marched from the city’s Black Lives Matter Plaza across from the White House to the National Mall to pressure President Joe Biden’s handling of pressing immigration issues.

The action was held on May 1, a celebration known globally as International Workers’ Day, which honors all working people. The march and rally organizers chose the day to highlight the significance of the 11 million undocumented immigrants to the American economy, A disproportionate number of undocumented immigrants work in low-wage jobs considered “essential.” 

A speaker at the rally, Jein Ryu of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), said that many undocumented immigrants were deemed “essential” from the beginning of the global health crisis. Their work at nursing homes; hospitals and clinics; and as home health care professionals, fast food personnel, construction crew members, and even as in-home child care employees—enabled the US to continue functioning.

| Watch: iLucha Sí: Fight for public education in Puerto Rico

Other speakers noted that immigrant contributions helped keep the country running during quarantine. To the Biden administration has continued to deport undocumented immigrants, particularly Haitians, using Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which allows deportation of immigrants who might be a health risk.

Added to rallygoers’ peremptory requests were that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) adults whose undocumented parents brought them to the U.S. when they were children, be granted U.S. citizenship. And, they called for an end to the separation of undocumented immigrant families who fled to the US-Mexico border seeking asylum.

The marchers demanded that President Biden make good on his promise, which was part of his recent Joint Session of Congress address. In his talk, he committed to passing legislation that  maintained Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for undocumented immigrants who would be tortured or murdered if they were deported to their countries of origin.

President Biden introduced what he called a comprehensive immigration reform package during his first hundred days in office. During his April 28, 2021 address, he urged Senators and Representatives to pass his proposed legislation. If they don’t like any of it, said Biden, “let’s at least pass what we all agree on.”

. . . .
Rallygoer at immigration March in Washington DC. May 1, 2021. Photo credit: Nancy Shia

Leading the marchers from the plaza down Pennsylvania Avenue was local music group MAB 2.0. It’s percussive go-go beat blended with sounds of feet hitting pavement, the rhythms of an Asian drumming group, and participants singing and chanting slogans. 

“İJusticia! ¿Cuando? ¿Cuando? ¿Cuando? İAhora! İAhora! İAhora!” (“Justice! When? When? When? Now! Now! Now!”). And “We are immigrants! Mighty, mighty immigrants!” The crowd belted in rhythm.

Many participants waved American flags, but they also displayed flags of the nations from which many of them originated. Cameroon. Haiti. Honduras. Nicaragua. El Salvador. Ecuador. They carried signs and banners which read, “Fight ignorance, not immigrants.” “I Am Essential.”  “Citizenship for All.”

When marchers made it to the Mall, speakers expressed elation over the gathering’s turnout. Those who came represented an array of diverse ethnicities and nationalities.  “We are here not just for Haitian immigrants, but for immigrants from (countries such as) Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras,” said Guerline Jozef, a Haitian woman from the organization Haitian Bridge Alliance. “Together, we are strong.”

Some undocumented speakers were only introduced by their first names or their organizational affiliation in order to protect them from possible deportation. “I am afraid to get married and have children,” one woman revealed to the audience. She said she feared being deported away from her family if she had one.  Under TPS, she would not be deported, and she would not be separated indefinitely or permanently from a spouse or children.

| Watch: Mass deportations of Haitians points to Trump action now a Biden problem

Cameroon immigrants march for TPS protection. Thousands have sought asylum in the US. Photo credit: Nancy Shia

Charles, who is originally from Cameroon, West Africa, represented CASA. He said he was honored to participate as a Black immigrant from an African country along with other Black immigrants from the Caribbean. 

Cameroon has been embroiled in a civil war between the minority English-speaking in its Northwest and Southwest regions, and the majority French speakers. Saying that they have no effective government representation to address discrimination, the English-speaking minority wants to split from Cameroon and form its own separate nation, “Republic of Ambazonia.”

In the conflict, there have been killings of English-speaking civilians by government troops and the kidnapping of those who are seen as colluding with the government. But efforts to establish peace talks have faltered. Even attempts to convince Cameroon’s aging President Paul Biya to abandon a military solution to division have been futile. 

According to a report published this January by the African Leadership Centre of King’s College London and the Research Center for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations at Coventry University, more than 3,000 people have been killed in the conflict. More than 200 villages have been burned and 750,000 Cameroonians have been displaced. Another report compiled by Human Rights First, says thousands have fled Cameroon seeking asylum in other countries, including a possible 3,000 in the U.S.

Within the bounds of TPS, asylum seekers from designated politically unstable countries, and countries ravaged by earthquakes and other natural disasters, can live in the U.S. indefinitely until conditions in their countries of origin improve.

“Not everyone is lucky to get out of Cameroon,” said Charles. “We [Cameroonians] are begging the entire U.S. government, President Biden, and Vice President Harris, to answer our pleas [for TPS].”

| Read: Disparities in US Immigration policy show racial biases

Ryu of (NAKASEC), which organizes Koreans and Asian Americans to push for racial, economic and social justice, told the audience that he was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was a child more than a decade ago. “My parents worked countless hours in low-wage jobs. They bought a house, a car, and paid for my college tuition.”

The protestors vowed not to stop their campaign until their immigration reform demands are fulfilled. “İ Un pueblo, unidos, jamas sera vencidos! (The people, united, will never be defeated),” they shouted in Spanish. “İ Sí se puede! (Yes we can!).” 

The Department of Homeland Security announced the day after the rally that it was reuniting four immigrant families separated under the Trump administration. But the International Workers’ Day demonstrators indicated that such limited actions are not enough. They want all undocumented immigrants to be able to apply for, and obtain, citizenship.

The march was organized  by Movimiento Consecha (Harvest Movement), a nonviolent, national network of families, immigrant leaders and working people advocating for permanent protection for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.  Participating organizations included CASA (formerly called the Central American Solidarity Association) of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the Central American Resource Center (CARACEN) of Northern California and of Washington, D.C.; the Haitian Bridge Alliance; United We Dream; the We Are Home Coalition; the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance; and Families Belong Together.

Margaret Summers has worked as a print and radio news reporter and a media relations professional. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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