Whitman, WWCC and Wa-Hi students to attend Seattle immigration reform rally
April 8, 2010
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Ten thousand people will converge at Seattle’s Occidental Park on Saturday, April 10, to rally for comprehensive immigration reform. The rally has been organized by the Washington Immigration Reform Coalition, an umbrella group which includes over 50 immigrants’ rights groups, labor unions, faith-based organizations and community groups. For Whitman students passionate about immigration reform, the rally serves as a chance to get involved and put pressure on politicians to act now.
“Immigration reform affects a lot of my family members,” said Ariel Ruiz, a junior who plans to attend the rally. He hopes to see Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform this year, and said it’s time to put pressure on politicians to take action.
Sophomore Yonas Fikak, who also plans to attend the rally, agreed.
“There is a need to solve [immigration], and in order to solve it, there has to be a push from ordinary Americans,” he said.
OneAmerica, an immigrants’ rights group which is helping to organize the event, outlines seven major components of comprehensive immigration reform on their Web site. Among these measures are a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, reducing backlogs on immigration applications for people with family members already living in the United States and allowing enough legal visas to meet labor market demands.
“There are people who call for simply enforcing our laws, but our laws are outdated and unfair,” said Charlie McAteer, the communications manager for OneAmerica.
McAteer said the goal of the rally was for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR-ASAP) was introduced in the House by Representative Gutierrez (D-Ill.) last year, and is still in committee. The Senate currently has no comprehensive immigration reform bill, but Senators Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Graham (R-S.C.) have outlined a plan which is supported by President Obama.
Congressman Jim McDermott, who represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District, will speak at the rally. Other Washington politicians, including Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, have expressed support for immigration reform.
The rally will be attended by people from all over Washington, with more than 80 charter buses scheduled to transport people to and from the event. Thirty-five Whitman students plan to attend the event and will share a bus with community members, including students from Walla Walla High School and Walla Walla Community College.
“We’ve made a big effort to develop organizing strategies that are not just relying on Olympia and Seattle,” said McAteer.
Whitman students are attending for a variety of reasons. Some are personally affected by immigration policy, while others see it as an important social and political issue.
“It doesn’t help anyone to have people living in the shadows, in fear,” said junior Lissa Erickson, who is attending the rally. “It’s not just about immigrants’ rights; it’s about everyone’s rights.”
Immigration policy also affects access to higher education, a fact which Fikak observed when he was applying for college. He saw friends who were undocumented immigrants struggling to find financial aid because of their immigration status.
“They were going through problems applying for scholarships,” he said. “They were doing a lot more work than I was doing.”
The DREAM Act, which will provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students and allow them access to financial aid, is a component of comprehensive immigration reform that has garnered support on many college campuses.
Alonso Chehade, an organizer for the Washington DREAM Act Coalition, believes that allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens is an issue of fairness.
“[Undocumented immigrants] have been living here,” he said. “They’ve built their life here. They pay taxes and they don’t get anything in return.”
He hopes the rally will mobilize grassroots support for immigration reform.
“This won’t just be a rally,” Chehade said. “We’re trying to make history here.”