Editor’s note: This story was chosen as one of our top 12 in 2010. While health care reform took the spotlight in 2010, one issue that deeply concerned Asian Americans was immigration reform. 2010 saw the DREAM Act — legislation that aimed to provide illegal alien students of good moral character the chance to earn conditional permanent residency — gain ground. Unfortunately, in December, the U.S. Senate did not pass the DREAM Act.
By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
They arrived at Seattle’s Occidental Park by the busload — 92 to be exact.
Most of them carried large signs and banners commemorating the National Day of Action on Immigration. One person carried a white sign with the message, “Yes, We Can” in large orange letters.
Another person carried a yellow sign that read, “We Are America.” One in the back read, “We Pay Taxes, Too.”
The Stand Up in Seattle for Immigration Reform rally was hosted by the Washington Immigration Reform Coalition (WIRC) for America on April 10. Attendees with smart phones texted JUSTICE to 69866 so they could receive action alerts on immigration reform via text messages. In turn, the community will help generate thousands of calls to President Obama and members of Congress in support of immigration reform.
Whether it’s through homemade signs or texts, the message from a crowd of about 5,000 to federal lawmakers was a simple one. The message is to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill by May 1.
Immigrants and advocates filled the brick-covered grounds between South Washington Street and South Main Street to hear their elected leaders speak about immigration reform. Between breaks for music and dance performances, the crowd listened to the personal stories of eight people affected by the current immigration system.
WIRC says it represents more than 60 organizations, unions, and faith communities in Washington state.
Emcee Lua Pritchard, chair of the Asian Pacific Island Coalition of Pierce County, introduced Washington state’s elected officeholders to the diverse crowd. The elected leaders asked them repeatedly and fervently, “What do you want?”
“Immigration reform!” they shouted in response.
Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, served as co-emcee and a Spanish interpreter for rally speakers.
“We want legalization and a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants,” said Pritchard.
Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service, agreed and said, “There are about a million Asians who are undocumented and living in this country.
[Comprehensive immigration reform] includes reuniting our families through clearing the visa backlogs.
There are about two million Asians waiting in the visa backlog to rejoin their families here in the United States, and some of our families wait for over 20 years,” said Narasaki. “There are about 9,000 Southeast Asians who are facing deportation, and we want to make sure that they have due process and a judicial review.”
Pritchard mentioned another crucial component of immigration reform, “We want to make sure that all workers get full legal protection regardless of their status. In addition, immigrants must have full due process and their civil and human rights protected.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington) began his speech by saying, “Good afternoon, fellow immigrants. … My family came in 1850.”
He acknowledged the belief among many people that immigration reform can’t be accomplished but added, “America was built by immigrants, and we need to have a reasonable system.”
Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, reminded the crowd, “Congress will never make anything happen on their own. It is the people who will make immigration reform happen because movements do not wait for things to happen. Movements make things happen. Because of every one of you, we are one of the two largest rallies in the United States, right here in Washington state.” The event followed a March 21 rally in Washington, D.C., where 250,000 people joined a March for America, urging for changes in U.S. immigration policies.
She then introduced Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). Both delivered their messages via pre-taped videos shown on a giant TV screen.
“I support comprehensive immigration reform because it is the right thing to do,” said Sen. Murray. “I assure you, I’ll keep fighting for you.”
Sen. Cantwell said, “I’ll see you all here or in the other Washington when we are successful in this effort. Thanks for being at today’s rally.”
Benito Valdez, an 88-year-old Filipino American World War II veteran, was one of the eight people who shared their personal stories with the crowd. After receiving his citizenship, he said he “was told to petition [my family], and I did. Today, 18 years later, I am still waiting for my children, who should be my safety net as I grow old. … I appeal to the United States government to help us in bringing our families here to join us before we all pass away and our petitions are nullified. … Allow us to regain our dignity and to live the few remaining years in the company of our sons and daughters in this benevolent land of America.”
Dori Peralta Baker, a Filipino American and chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Yakima Valley, said, “The [immigration] process is very long, and trying to unite families and trying to get families together, I think, is most important for our nation.” ♦
For more information about the “Stand Up in Seattle for Immigration Reform!” rally, visit www.weareoneamerica.org/april10.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.