WASHINGTON — Thousands of people descended upon the National Mall on the afternoon of March 21 for the March for America rally, and while jobs and immigration reform were supposed to be the dual themes of the event, the latter seemed to dominate.

Marchers carried signs saying “We’re All Americans” and “Latinos Aren’t Slaves” while chanting “Yes we can” in Spanish in support of new immigration measures.

The march came amid a charged atmosphere in the nation’s capital, as lawmakers in the House of Representatives moved toward passing a massive health care reform bill that afternoon. Many flocked to the National Mall the previous day to protest the health care bill in a sometimes unruly manner, hurling racial and anti-gay slurs at several Democratic lawmakers. House Republicans said those incidents were isolated, and condemned the remarks.

While many protestors remained in the capital on March 21 to continue their opposition to the bill, the immigration and jobs march was apparently devoid of conflict with health care protestors, as attendees said they just wanted to have their voices heard. “We just want to stop being treated like second-class citizens,” said Marco Gonzalez. “We work and contribute to the economy like anyone else.”

Gonzalez said he was angry with what he felt was disrespect towards immigrants. He said many immigrants have been treated unfairly in America. “We’re human,” he said.  “Many of us go to school and pay taxes. We deserve a piece of the American dream.

“We don’t have the same rights as all the citizens of the United States though we’ve been living here for so many years. It’s like we don’t count to them.”
It seems as if that message may have been heard before people arrived in Washington.

On March 19 Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), together, wrote an op-ed piece in the {Washington Post} explaining their blueprint for immigration reform. In that blueprint, they would ask for provisions for illegal immigrants to come to America and earn money.

“Our current system prohibits lower-skilled immigrants from coming here to earn money and then returning home,” they wrote. “Our framework would facilitate this desired circular migration by allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can show they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position.”

While that may not apply to African Americans, there are many Blacks who support that idea. Eric Richardson, an African American, traveled from Oregon to attend the event. He said he considers every American an immigrant.

“I’m here as a descendant of African immigrants,” Richardson said. “I know that there are mostly Latinos in the crowd today but I share in their struggle.”

Richardson said he was in Washington to help lobby for the Dream Act, which allows for educational opportunities for immigrants. He was very excited to be a part of the event and expressed his joy over what he witnessed.

“This is beautiful,” said Richardson.  “I didn’t know how it was going to look, but it’s good to see people from all different nations.”

Speakers at the event ranged from media personality Geraldo Rivera to the Rev. Jesse Jackson to NAACP President Ben Jealous to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) There was even a taped video message from President Barack Obama. In his message, Obama pledged his support for immigration reform.

“I have always pledged to be your partner as we work to fix our broken immigration system, and that’s a commitment that I reaffirm today,” said Obama. “You know as well as I do that this won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight.”

Obama, who received huge support in 2008 presidential election from Latino voters, will be under pressure to make sure immigration reform is a priority.

“We’ve been patient long enough. We’ve asked politely and turned the cheek so many times our heads are spinning,” said Gutierrez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Taskforce, during the rally. “It’s time to let immigrants come out of the shadows into the light and for America to embrace and protect them.”


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO