Chants of “Si Se Puede!” could be heard throughout downtown Chicago as thousands marched and rallied for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to deportations Saturday afternoon.
The massive march and demonstration, attended by some 5,000 people, kicked off at Teamster City, 1645 W. Jackson Blvd. At 1:30 p.m., marchers began to travel east on Jackson Boulevard and then north on Dearborn Street until they reached Daley Center plaza for a planned rally. Police blocked off traffic as the marchers made their way downtown. Demonstrators cheered, banged drums, waved American flags and held signs reading, “Keep families together!”
Labor leaders, community members and immigrant rights advocates demanded that House Republican leaders, including U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R, IL-6), bring immigration reform legislation up for a vote.
House Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that creates a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants less than two weeks ago, but Republican House leaders have been ignoring it. The bill mirrors the bipartisan immigration reform package the Senate passed in June.
“We believe we have the votes to get it passed [in the House] if a vote were called today, but Republican leadership is standing in the way of that, refusing to call a vote,” said Jenette Sturges, an Aurora resident and votunteer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). “We want them to take a stand. Become a leader, and let hard-working people earn citizenship.”
Saturday’s rally specifically singled out Roskam, Illinois’ top House Republican and the chamber’s chief deputy whip.
“We’re calling on him to take the lead on this, because he has the power to do it, and he has not responded to any of our calls for action,” Sturges said.
One activist carried a giant, full-sized cutout of the congressman, while others toted signs reading “Roskam, remember November” and “Roskam hates immigrants.” Others held up posters in the shape of mastodons reading, “Illinois GOP: Vote for comprehensive immigration reform or face extinction.”
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) attended the Teamster City rally and noted that Roskam’s district is one-third Latino. Roskam will pay a price during the November election if an immigration reform bill is not called for a vote by then, Fioretti stressed.
Alds. Joe Moreno (1st) Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Walter Burnett (27th) also attended the rally.
A number of other labor organizations including Chicago Jobs With Justice, Unite Here and the Chicago Teachers Union, to name a few, were also represented at the event.
“Labor is in the house brothers and sisters, because we have to make sure that once and for all we get real, common sense immigration reform,” said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. “So that all people can move ahead, so that we can recognize the basic human rights that we as trade unionists believe that we must always fight for.”
Later at the Daley Plaza rally, Liz Marquez, 9, delivered some fiery words for members of Congress in front of the sea of people.
“Our families have witnessed injustice, discrimination and racism. Enough is enough,” she said. “I am tired of a broken immigration system that treats my parents like criminals. Our parents are not criminals. They are hard working people who have sacrificed everything.”
Marquez said her father is currently facing deportation, and she’s sick of being afraid that he could be taken away from her family at any moment.
“Living with fear is not the right way to live,” she said. “It is my right as a U.S. citizen to be able to live with my parents without being separated by a deportation.”
Every day, 1,100 people are deported. If deportation rates continue at their current pace, some 2 million people will have been deported by 2014 under the Obama administration.
Juan Lopez with the group P.A.S.O (West Suburban Action Project) said that’s unacceptable, and House Republican leaders need to quit sitting on immigration reform legislation that would provide immediate legal status and an eventual pathway to citizenship.
Sturges said it was moving to see such an impressive turnout Saturday.
“Whats really cool about it, it’s not a movement of any one sort of person,” she told Progress Illinois. “It’s immigrants and non-immigrants. It’s their families and their friends. It’s Latinos and Asians … It’s a really great atmosphere. It’s really empowering.”