By Beatriz Pascual Macias
Washington, Sep 21 (EFE).- Shouting “Yes, we can!” hundreds of migrants gathered on Tuesday in front of the US Congress to make clear that they will not give up on their dream of immigration reform and that now is the time for Democrats to keep the promises that they have been making for years.
The protest lasted some four hours, beginning in a park near the headquarters of one of the US government agencies tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented migrants and ending in front of the Reflecting Pool near the US Capitol, where activists had erected a stage.
Appearing on that stage was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, whom the migrants have in their sights because, to a large extent, approval of a law allowing eight million of the estimated 11 million undocumented foreigners living in the US to regularize their immigration status rests on him.
“Yes, we can!” said Schumer before mounting the stage to speak to the crowd. That slogan, which for years has symbolized the struggle for immigration reform, once again was echoed by lawmakers – including Schumer – who came to the protest and also shouted along with the demonstrators who for years have been dreaming of a better future.
Schumer said that he felt “sad” and “angry” after on Sunday the Senate parliamentarian, a non-partisan arbiter who interprets the Senate’s rules, determined that Democrats cannot use a legislative maneuver to approve immigration reform on their own without the support of at least some Republicans.
“Changing the law to clear the way to (legal permanent resident) status is a tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact,” parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough wrote.
A Quinnipiac University poll made public in February found that 65 percent of Americans – 89 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans – think that undocumented immigrants living in the US should be allowed to remain in the country and apply for citizenship.
Schumer said in a statement on Sunday that “We are deeply disappointed in (the parliamentarian’s) decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues,” adding that “Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days.”
At the protest on Tuesday, Schumer told the crowd that he would never forget the fact that migrants have “built this country.”
His remarks were translated into Spanish by Gustavo Torres, an migrants’ rights activist who is known for his explosive oratory and who shouted and gesticulated while transmitting Schumer’s comments.
To motivate the crowd, Schumer tried to end his speech by saying that when united, the people will never be defeated, although a mistranslation of his words created momentary confusion among the crowd, many of whom spoke only Spanish.
However, the mistake was immediately corrected and the crowd, waving flags and signs, responded by raising their fists and applauding.
Once he had finished his remarks and surrounded by security personnel, Schumer then got into a large black vehicle that was awaiting him behind the stage but one activist took advantage of the occasion to take the microphone and call to the senator, saying “Leader Schumer,” get immigration reform, not in the next election but “now!”
“When, when, when?” the activist shouted to the demonstrators, who responded “Now, now, now!”
A sense of urgency and a certain weariness – or the sense of being fed up – pervaded the crowd because many Democratic candidates for the presidency or for congressional seats for years – and during each election cycle – have been promising immigration reform to the Latino community, but for assorted reasons that has never come to fruition.
“The time is now. The Democrats can’t make any more excuses,” Lenka Mendoza, born in Peru and who has been living illegally in the US since 2001, told EFE, referring to the fact that Democrats – for the first time in years – hold a slender majority in both houses of Congress.
Mendoza, who earns her living cleaning houses, for years has participated in the movement for immigration reform, taking part in hunger strikes, being arrested by the police and shouting her head off at hundreds of protests like the one on Tuesday.
But today, she said that she’s had enough and that, if the Democrats don’t keep their promises, there will be consequences at the polls.
“My daughter is a (US) citizen, she’s 15 and will vote in the next elections. My daughter has marched with me since she was very small and she’s told me that, if the Democrats don’t come through, she’s going to vote in the next (election) and will take that into account. And, like her, there are millions of young citizens with undocumented parents.”