WASHINGTON – ‘The time is now,’ according to Maryland and national advocates for immigration reform.
Almost 20,000 people chanted this phrase during Camino Americano, a rally, concert and march on the National Mall on Tuesday to pressure Congress into passing immigration reform that would lead to citizenship for all immigrants, according to advocates.
To compliment comprehensive federal reform, immigrant advocacy groups in Maryland are considering putting forward legislation that would make it illegal for local law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants for possible deportation by federal authorities unless they have committed a serious crime.
And the time is now, as Maryland has become “a more welcoming environment for immigration than other places,” said Sirine Shebaya, an attorney directing the ACLU of Maryland’s immigrant’s rights and racial justice work.
“A bill was recently passed to make driver’s licenses available for undocumented immigrants [and the] year before that the Dream Act passed, which provides in-state tuition for immigrant students,” she said.
Legislation for next Maryland General Assembly session, which starts in January, would be similar to the Trust Act that was signed in California in early October, Shebaya said.
The act was in response to a federal program that allows state and local police to check the fingerprints of someone who has been arrested against Department of Homeland Security immigration databases. If an individual is found in any of the databases, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is automatically notified, and local authorities are asked to detain the individual for an additional 48 hours, even if the person has not been convicted of a criminal act.
“[The program] turns local police into the Department of Homeland Security,” Shebaya said. “The only way to opt-out is to not upload fingerprints at all.”
Several counties in states other than California have also refused to honor what is known as “detainers.”
“Maryland is in a really good position to do this,” Sebaya said. “Obviously the big change has to happen federally, but as long as Washington isn’t acting, as long as there are things that don’t get covered and there are things left out of federal immigration reform, then there’s a lot of room for states to actually act.”
Since Saturday, more than 40 cities held marches, public forums, rallies, discussions and vigils to continue to target Congress and to celebrate the Oct. 5 ‘National Day of Dignity and Respect.
Camino Americano, which translates to “American Way”— a play on the fact that Camino can mean march, or journey in reference to the 500-mile pilgrim trail in northern Spain—was the last of more than 200 events.
“We called on the community to come out to the rally and show why immigration reform is so important,” said Ashwini Jaisingh, a lead organizer for Casa De Maryland who handed out event flyers on Sunday at Saint Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring. “The urgency has only increased.”
Yet not everyone agrees that comprehensive immigration legislation is best for America.
“It’s going to be a disaster economically for the United States,” said Delegate Patrick McDonough, R-Baltimore County, who opposed the Dream Act in 2012 for similar reasons. “It’s going to cause massive job displacement and I think a pathway to citizenship already exists—it’s called the federal immigration law that we currently have. …Comprehensive reform is nothing more than amnesty”
Several members of Congress who support comprehensive immigration reform spoke at the event, including Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Eight congressional Democrats were arrested while demonstrating.
In total, 221 people were arrested, including Casa De Maryland Director Gustavo Torres and the Service Employees International Union affiliate Vice President Jaime Contreras.
The band Los Tigres del Norte performed, several faith leaders led the crowd in prayer and children whose parents have been deported spoke out.
“There are millions of families who are desperate, and we just heard from children whose parents have been deported in the last couple years,” Liz Alex, a lead organizer for Casa De Maryland, said at the event. “Those children can’t wait any longer, they can’t wait for political games—they need immigration reform to pass now.”