GW students joined the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who rallied on the Mall Monday in opposition to illegal immigration legislation. But several student organizations said they weren’t getting involved as a group because immigration is less of a political issue and more of a personal matter.
Amanda Beltran, director of public relations for GW’s Organization of Latino American Students, said most OLAS members were present at the protest, though the activity wasn’t organized by the group.
“As an organization; we don’t take political stances, but most of our members went to the protest,” Beltran, a sophomore, said. “Most OLAS members are immigrants, so of course they are against this immigration reform.”
GW’s College Democrats also did not publicize the protest, but the group’s press relations director, Sarah Spooner, said many of its members went individually because of the importance of the issue.
“It wasn’t a political event organized by typical activists – it was an outgrowth of the feelings of everyday Americans,” Spooner, a sophomore, wrote in an e-mail this week. “I’m glad the protests, here and elsewhere, were as large as they were. It shows that people – not politicians, not career activists, not those with an axe to grind, people – care about this issue and want to make their voices heard.”
The District joined more than 60 cities nationwide that held protests this week. Groups of mostly Hispanic protesters, illegal and legal, rallied in huge numbers in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta. Demonstrators totaled more than a million people nationwide, according to press reports.
Speakers at Monday’s rally in Washington urged Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform and make citizenship more accessible for most illegal immigrants.
The rallies were a response to action by Republicans in the House of Representatives, who passed legislation that criminalizes illegal immigration, and strengthens border control and security. The Senate is debating a plan that provides guest-worker status of three to six years for some immigrants. President Bush backs a guest-worker plan, putting him at odds with some members of his own party.
“Some in Congress want to turn America away from its true spirit,” Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said. “If they believe illegal aliens are criminals, they are wrong.”
Rep. James Morgan (D-Va.) said at the rally that America became great because it has always been home to opportunity.
“Certainly America did not become great by deporting its greatest workforce,” he said.
Many in the crowd held American flags, unlike some protests where people waved mostly Mexican flags. The words “Si se puede,” which mean “Yes I can,” were commonly chanted by the enthusiastic crowd. People of all ages, including children, were present at the protest, and Spanish translators were present on stage to translate the English speeches of some of the speakers.
While Monday’s demonstration faced very little opposition from counter protesters, Marcus Epstein, director of resources for Team America, a political action committee led by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and conservative TV commentator Bay Buchanan, attended the protest in opposition.
“There are several extreme communist and socialist groups represented here. A month ago I attended a similar protest and hardly anyone could speak English,” Epstein said. “These people work hard, but there are six billion people in the world, and America can’t have space for everyone. This problem can’t be dealt with until we solve the border problem.”
Patrick O’Connor, a Catholic priest from Weston, Va., said he attended the protest in support of immigrants because of his religious convictions. O’Connor referenced the Bible’s Gospel of Matthew, which stresses for Christians to identify with those who suffer and are in need, as a reason for his support.
“Because they are illegal, they suffer an economic poverty and injustice to fundamental human rights,” he said. “The longer we as a society ignore these people we are an unjust society and acting immorally on this issue.”