Immigrant rights organizations have called for a major march on Washington on January 21, the day after Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th US president.
Defenders and advocates of tens of millions of immigrants will take to the streets to press their case for immigration reform and remind Obama of one of the policy planks he plugged on the campaign stump as he wooed the Hispanic vote.
“On January 21 we will be here in Washington to ask for reforms and for an end to the raids” at workplaces that have seen illegal immigrants arrested and deported, said Angelica Salas, director of the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
“We ask the president-elect to consider immigration reform one of his 10 domestic priorities,” she told reporters Tuesday, adding that she hoped reform legislation would begin “in the first 100 days” of an Obama administration.
The US Congress failed to pass the most recent version of sweeping immigration legislation, in 2007, which would have given legal status and a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States.
Obama and his rival in the 2008 presidential race, Republican Senator John McCain, had been involved in negotiations over the text, and immigration reform earned broad support from both Obama and McCain on the 2008 campaign trail.
But in the final months before the election, immigration swiftly took a back seat to the deepening and more pressing economic crisis.
“We know it is important for our country,” Salas said, referring to the financial meltdown, but “we understand that we must also work for the other things that are very important.”
Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said organizers were “trying to mobilize tens of thousands of immigrants” for the march, which would highlight the vital role immigrants could play in an American economic recovery.
“The kind of effort we are going to make as a country to get us out of this economic mess is going to be required of any one of us, including immigrants,” said Chung-Wha.
The immigrant vote proved crucial for an Obama victory, march organizers have said.
Hispanics cast about 10 million votes—30 percent more than in 2004, according to experts—and fully 67 percent of them voted for Obama and for congressional Democrats who reinforced their party’s majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
With just ten weeks left in the administration of President George W. Bush, Chung-Wha pleaded for a moratorium on the highly controversial raids to round up and deport illegals.
Critics stress that the raids, undertaken by police and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division, end up tearing families apart and devastating businesses which serve immigrant communities.
Such raids prompted angry marches in dozens of American cities in 2006.
Organizers of the January 21 march, totaling some 30 nongovernmental organizations, announced they will quickly begin lobbying lawmakers in Congress to drive the immigration agenda.
“We are going to push it and keep it as a priority,” said Jessica Alvarez, president of the National Capital Immigration Coalition.