Paola Everett also contributed to this blog
As the country faces multiple national problems, including the most recent government shutdown, the immigrant rights movements have taken to the streets to remind Congress of yet one critical issue that has stalled because of the same gridlock: immigration reform. The need for reform is urgent, and across Florida and across the country people have been publicly declaring that the time is now to pass meaningful reform that will improve the lives of millions.
From California to our communities in Florida, October has been a key month for immigrant rights groups sending a wave of pro-immigration reform actions. Here are just a few of them that the ACLU of Florida has been involved with:
Saturday, October 5th, National Day for Dignity and Respect
On Saturday, October 5 in over 160 cities across the country groups in favor of immigrant rights activities, organized marches; vigils; protests; walks, to demand "dignity and respect" for immigrants. The ACLU, the ACLU of Florida and other ACLU affiliates across the nation took part in the activity.
In Miami, hundreds of people gathered at noon at Jose Marti Park to march from the historic Calle Ocho in Little Havana to the Cuban Memorial Plaza. Two women spoke to the attendees and the media about how their lives have been severely affected by our immigration system. The first was Victoria Viteri, an Ecuadorian woman who has not seen her daughter for three years since she returned to Ecuador when she was unable to continue her education due to not having documents. Victoria uses her bike to get to work, fearing a stop by the police and immigration, however this limits their work and income. Then Rosa Oseguera told the story of how her son was kicked out of his home by immigration officials and being held in a Federal Center in Downtown Miami. While in detention, he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection which is immediately life-threatening.
Leaders from other organizations said a few words: Francisco Portillo from the Organización Hondureña Integrada Francisco Morazán, Ivan Parra of 1Miami, and Maria Rodriguez for Florida Immigrant Coalition, who closed with a moving speech about the importance of continuing the fight for dignity and respect for immigrants. "I wish John Boehner had ovaries that I have I" Rodriguez said to a cheering crowd.
The marchers took to the sidewalks of Calle Ocho carrying banners reading "The Constitution is my document," "Whose father did you deport today?", "Immigration reform is in the hands of Congress", "We want immigration reform, now." The activity ended with the stories of other affected families, and live music.
Meanwhile in Lakeland, about 200 people gathered at a vigil outside the First Presbyterian Church, which was attended by Congressman Dennis Ross and his family. Community members remained for hours on the sidewalk with candles and banners reading "deportation is not a family value” while praying and asking for the respect and dignity of immigrants. Multiple organizations and community groups spoke about the importance of immigration reform for families who are being separated. The vigil lasted 16 hours and ended with 25 community members participating in Sunday Mass.
Following the Lakeland vigil, 11 pilgrims started a 150 mile, 7 day walk from Orlando to Tampa raising awareness on the importance and necessity of reform. PICO clergy, faith leaders and community members were joined by hundreds of supporters in Sacred Heart Church in Downtown Tampa. They then marched to the Federal Courthouse were they continued to pray for congress and the 11 million people currently in the country waiting for an immigration reform.
Tuesday, October 8th “Camino Americano” (American Path)
On October 8th around 20,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington and marched to the U.S. Capitol to send a message to the House of Representatives: Get Immigration Reform Done; and Get it Done Now. At least eight House Democrats supportive of a reform bill were among around 200 arrested at the rally for blocking traffic in front of the US Capitol in an act of civil disobedience.
Throughout the month of October, the immigrant rights movement has taken to the streets and exercised their right to make their voice heard. Future demonstrations and actions are already planned and will likely continue until we see immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented people. If you are planning on getting involved in these planned actions, be sure to know your rights as a protestor, as a photographer, and when encountering law enforcement. There are still two more weeks left, but October seems already to be a month of heat on the streets, despite the fact that summer is over.