Thousands descend on D.C. to demand immigration reform

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DEARBORN, Mich - Adonis Flores says immigration reform affects him and his family "personally." Talking last night before heading to Washington, D.C. for today's huge immigration rally, Flores amplified his personal story. "I'm undocumented. My brother is undocumented, and was pulled over this morning and arrested by immigration." He said his uncle was deported in 2009, the very same day President Obama took office.

Flores, a business administration major at Wayne State University in Detroit, said, "We work hard, we pay our taxes, spend our money here; we want a better life." He's tired of the far right demonizing immigrants. The "community" is not the problem. "We are the victims."

The big rally in Washington today comes at a critical time. Support and pressure is growing in the nation and Congress for meaningful immigration reform. Organizers say that every day Congress fails to pass legislation, 1,100 families are torn apart, workers continue to suffer abuse, and children are traumatized by the loss of a parent.

Raquel Garcia-Andersen, an immigrant rights organizer for Michigan United, a new coalition of almost one hundred labor, faith, and other concerned organizations, said, "We don't want citizenship 'twenty years in the making,' we want a quick process."

The agenda for those attending at today's rally is packed. Garcia-Andersen said that before people assemble on the West Lawn of the Capital they will have lobbied elected officials. The Michigan contingent has meetings scheduled with Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Carl Levin and many of the state's House delegation, Republican and Democratic.

Michigan will be well represented at the rally. The bus leaving from the Dearborn office of ACCESS, an Arab-American service organization, is one of almost twenty leaving the state.

Pastor William Rideout of All God's People Church also has a personal stake in today's rally. Members of his black, white and Latino congregation have been deported and they are "crying out" to him to fight. "These are law abiding citizens; it's a shame they won't legalize them to be American citizens."

The problem in Southeast Michigan is particularly bad. In Garcia-Andersen's Southwest Detroit neighborhood she said expect a "long wait" if you report problems to the city police, "but look outside my window and there are four ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) trucks taking people who are not criminals."

She said the end result is houses being emptied and once a home is no longer occupied, it gets "burned down." Her concern is the policies are wrong, both for Detroit and the immigrant community. "If we could think more creatively about our problems we should have so many jobs. There are a lot of things to do."

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous is the keynote speaker at today's rally. Also addressing the crowd will be United Auto Workers President Bob King, whose union is one of many organizing members to attend.

Yesterday King released a statement speaking to labor's concern about immigrant workers being abused on the job. "While CEOs get millions in bonuses for shipping jobs overseas, many working immigrants have no rights or protections to fight against employers who exploit their status. King said the hard work of immigrant workers should "be rewarded with fair pay, yet so many get paid far less than they deserve."

Photo: Adonis Flores (left) and a friend board the bus for D.C. John Rummel/PW

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