A steady throng of demonstrators marched down Congress Ave. to the Capitol Friday morning, carrying huge colorful banners and signs with messages like “I was born in the USA – Don’t take my mommy and daddy away!” and “End detentions now!” The demonstrators came from all over the state and represented about 30 organizations calling for “fair and just immigration reform that provides dignity and rights for all.”
Immigration reform rallies in 2006 drew massive crowds (Dallas reportedly had 500,000 demonstrators) and were predominantly staged in response to the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act pushed by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin). Though the march today was much smaller (the Austin Police Department estimates less than 1,000 people participated), the message was still clear: immigrants are coming out of the shadows and demanding that the federal government finally pass an immigration reform plan that grants them more rights.
Chants like “Obama, escucha, estamos en la lucha!” dominated the morning, or “Obama, listen, we are still fighting!” Downtown traffic was temporarily stopped as Austin Police Department officers on motorcycles escorted protesters down the street to the Capitol. A man carrying a large United States flag led the march, followed by a group holding a white banner that said “Texans Demand Fair Immigration Reform!” in red, black and blue.
Participants rolled into Austin by the busload, arriving from Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. Ramona Casas of ARISE, a non-profit organization that serves colonias, says their bus carrying 57 people set out for Austin at 3 a.m.
“We want them to hear us in there,” Esther Reyes of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition said, pointing to the pink granite Capitol building. “Si, se puede! We’re here today because we want to be recognized as citizens of this great country!”
Protesters, largely Hispanic immigrants, waved miniature American flags as the national anthem was sung. The crowd included children wrapped in blankets, huge groups of DREAMers from all over the state, as well as elderly people with walkers and canes, all holding signs and chanting. Labor unions were also present and faith leaders were among the speakers. Activists demanded immigration reform that includes an end to criminalization, deportations and detentions; an end to militarization of the border; and a pathway to citizenship that leaves no one out.
“The time of immigration reform has arrived. This is and will be our year,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso. “… millions of families, millions of people that are as American as any other American – those Americans that don’t have documents – this is the moment for those families.”
Luis Maldonado, a DREAMer from the Rio Grande Valley, said President Obama’s Deferred Action program, which stays deportations and provides temporary work authorization for some immigrants who came here as children, is not enough.
“Our families need to be incorporated into this movement,” Maldonado said. “Just like the DREAMers and the allies fought for [Deferred Action], now let’s fight for comprehensive, fair and just immigration reform that will not take decades for myself and my family to become citizens.”
Demonstrators emphasized that today will not be the last time they march. On Feb. 27, they are taking their demands to Washington, D.C., in a “Day for Border Advocacy.”