On Saturday, more than a thousand Floridians gathered at Jose Marti Park in Little Havana, to march for a fair and inclusive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens.
ACLU of Florida staff, including myself, participated in the march. We expressed our concerns about how our broken immigration system is rife with severe civil rights and civil liberties problems, and that reform is long overdue. There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country and there is currently no effective way for these aspiring citizens to become citizens. As we move forward to fix this broken system, we must do so in a way that honors our country’s promise of equality to all.
The masters of ceremony were María Rodríguez, Executive Director of FLIC and recently named by the White House as a “Champions of Change,” Marliene Bastien, Director of Haitian Women of Miami and Francisco Portillo, Director or Organización Hondureña Francisco Morazan.
Alongside them, various religious and spiritual leaders shared a few words in support of immigration reform and a path to citizenship: Imam Amir Wilfredo Ruiz, from the American Muslim Association of North America, Rabbi Tom Heyden, from Temple Israel; Reverend Enrique Pacheco and Pastor Marie Loudes Metellys, from Canaan Ministries.
Three people shared their testimonies of how the deportations have broken up their families. One of them was María Salomé, a 9-year-old whose mother was deported to Venezuela in 2009. "With all respect, I call on President Obama and representatives to stop separating families," said the kid firmly, and continued "I promise in the name of Jesus of Nazareth I'll bring my mom back to this country."
The march represented the diversity of Florida - every step, one could hear chants and slogans in different languages: English, Spanish, Creole, Portuguese, and many others.
The list of organizations, community groups, churches and small businesses supporting the march included the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), the ACLU of Florida, Miami Workers Center, Asian American Federation of Florida, Haitian Women of Miami, Students Working for Equal Rights, Dreamer’s Moms, We Count!, Farmworker Association of Florida, Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church, Centro de Orientación al Inmigrante, Organización Hondureña Francisco Morazán, Coalition of Latino Organizations United for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), 1Miami, Mi Familia Vota, Florida New Majority, South Florida Jobs with Justice, Unite Here, South Florida AFL-CIO, AFSCME, among others.
The march ended in Torch of Friendship at Bayfront Park, in Downtown Miami, with a symbolic “naturalization ceremony” for marchers aspiring citizens, and music from the bands Bachaco and Kuyayky.
This event was one of the first major demonstrations of its kind in the country in the run-up to congressional action, expected soon, on a proposal to reform our immigration laws. Some of the marchers who participated in Saturday's event in Miami are planning to travel to Washington to attend a massive rally on Wednesday.
During the march, we encouraged people to share their stories at our hotline, 1-855-236-1494, where people can share their personal story of dealing with our immigration laws or simply the reasons why they support federal immigration reform. Their voices could be heard in the Florida Legislature, the U.S. Congress and through the press, all across the state.
Their story can change America’s story.