Democrats Joaquin Castro, Beto O’Rourke Join Thousands at Dallas Immigration March

The march highlighted the shared struggles of Muslims and Latinos in the age of Trump.

A big turnout for #megamarch2017 in downtown Dallas right now. Crowd is marching for immigrant rights, recalling the massive 2006 march.

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Posted by The Texas Observer on Sunday, April 9, 2017

Thousands flooded downtown Dallas on Sunday to demand immigration reform and push back against the Trump administration. The “Immigration Reform Mega March,” as organizers dubbed it, stretched several city blocks and brought out a number of elected officials.

Democratic Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Beto O’Rourke.  Gus Bova

“In every generation, there have been politicians who have tried to divide Americans and turn people against immigrants,” said Congressman Joaquin Castro outside Dallas City Hall. “But in every generation, there have been people like yourselves who have stood up and said no.”

Winding from the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe to City Hall, the mostly Latino crowd alternated chants of “say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here,” “education not deportation” and “we will vote.”

Nine-year-old Karen Sanchez carried a sign reading “we should be free from deportations,” which she’d made the night before after hearing about the march on the news.

A Dallas police officer and a march organizer both estimated the turnout at 25,000 to 30,0000. Later, DPD tweeted that 3,200 people attended the rally, a figure reported by various media outlets. Organizers had said before the event that they had expected up to 100,000.

In 2006, the original nationwide “mega march” brought out a staggering 500,000 participants in Dallas, one of the biggest in the nation. Many recalled how that march changed Dallas politics.

“The 2006 march and the movement around that is what turned Dallas County blue in 2008,” said state Representative Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, who also credited the march with launching more Latinos into office. “First we march, then we govern.”

Tere Ocampo with two students in her citizenship class at the march in Dallas.  Gus Bova

Tere Ocampo, just shy of her 75th birthday and using a wheelchair, was one of many protesters who had attended the 2006 march. Eleven years later, she said she came out again because “Trump is trying to undo what we’ve spent so many years building.”

After a career in education, Ocampo now volunteers helping people prepare for the U.S. citizenship exam. Alongside her marched two younger Latina women, students in her class. One wore a hat reading “women against Trump” and said the election helped motivate her to get her American citizenship.

Sunday’s march also highlighted a growing theme in immigration activism: the shared struggle of Latinos and Muslims.

“Things are not alright and things are not alt-right,” joked Omar Suleiman, a prominent Dallas imam and professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University, addressing the crowd. “When people in power try to impose a vision that some people are more entitled to this land than others, that’s not just a threat to Muslims or Latinos, it’s a threat to all Americans.”

Marchers wore red, white and blue and carried American flags.  Gus Bova

Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who recently announced a Senate run against Ted Cruz, also took the stage to a warm reception.

“When people tell you we need to secure the border I want you to tell them about El Paso, Texas, the safest city in the United States, whose safety depends on treating everyone with dignity and respect,” said O’Rourke.

During the march, a counter-protest of three pro-Trump demonstrators heckled the crowd from an overpass. As they chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A,” the marchers responded with a much louder version of the same. There were no altercations and no arrests, according to the Dallas Police Department.

Thousands marched in Dallas at the “Immigration Reform Mega March.”  Gus Bova

Recent activism in Dallas helped lay the groundwork for Sunday’s march. During the brief days when Trump’s Muslim ban was in effect, the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was the site of large protests. And in February, the Dallas County Commissioners Court passed a resolution declaring the county a “welcoming community” for all immigrants and refugees.

Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees. You can contact him at [email protected]

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