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March for immigration reform

Protesters are expected to converge on the Mall today, calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration and border control laws by year’s end.

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Faith leaders gather near the Capitol

Michelle Boorstein reports:

Faith leaders working for immigration reform this morning turned a parking lot next to the Capitol into a sanctuary, praying responsively, singing, speaking together aloud the names of individual migrants and asking God to help them as they headed to lawmakers’ offices to lobby.

“Holy God, sit with us today on the Hill as we meet with lawmakers and their staffs, speak through us God with words that reach past arguments,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for the progressive evangelical group Sojourners. “Let my people go!”

Harper was among several dozen clergy and faith activists in Washington who met outside the United Methodist Building – across from the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol – for a prayer vigil and then press conference.

Women and men wearing clerical collars and various brightly colored liturgical scarves sang in English, Spanish and Swahili: “We are marching in the light of God.”

Many have worked for years on immigration reform, and said even with the distraction of budget impasse fights and government shutdown, now might be a window to pass something substantive.

“I think there is a sense of urgency. If we don’t pass something now, we won’t get a vote until after the next election,” said the Rev. Gay Jennings, president of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church, as she walked to the Capitol building after the prayer service. Her adopted son came from Columbia when he was an infant, she said, “and he’s had every single opportunity because I was the one who brought him.”

Mark Berman
October 8, 12:17 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 12:17 pm

More on the immigration reform march

Tuesday’s rally will be held on the Mall amid a government shutdown that has closed museums and memorials to visitors. But the National Park Service has cited the First Amendment in keeping the Mall open for public protests.

Immigration advocates have said that October will be a month of escalating pressure for a comprehensive immigration bill, as Carol Morello reports. Head here to read more on the march and on why people are focusing on this issue now.

Mark Berman
October 8, 12:20 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 12:20 pm

Growing crowd on the Mall

The crowd on the Mall is slowly growing, reports Leah Binkovitz. Hundreds were gathered shortly before 12:30 p.m., with groups trickling in and chanting their own slogans as they walked toward the stage near the Smithsonian Castle.

“My hope is that Congress listens and goes back to work and finishes the job they have to finish,” Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of AFL-CIO, told Binkovitz. He said the abuses that undocumented workers suffer reflect a broken system “that’s not what this country is about.”

At a civil disobedience training session before the rally, he said he saw farm workers from the California valley whom he had worked with 10 years ago. He plans to participate in civil disobedience later today.

Pointing to a red band tied around his arm, he says, “I know it will go well. I’m anticipating being arrested myself.”

Mark Berman
October 8, 12:32 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 12:32 pm

Photo: Looking up at the flag

M. Scott Mahaskey, Politico’s photo editor, shared this image from the Mall minutes ago:

Mark Berman
October 8, 12:34 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 12:34 pm

'Immigrant rights are civil rights'

Michelle Boorstein reports:

Civil rights leader Julian Bond told the crowd on the Mall that “immigrant rights are civil rights.”

Through history great nations declined because they built up walls of insularity,” Bond said. “America was the exception. Immigration reform must come. It will come.”

American flags held by marchers flapped in the air over the crowd, as did dozens of signs bearing the name of local and national unions and slogans including “the time is now” and “justice and dignity” and “respect.”

The deep sound of a drum punctuated the speeches, in tune with applause and chants of “Si se puede!”

Mark Berman
October 8, 12:55 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 12:55 pm

Mayor Gray touts policies

Leah Binkovitz reports:

The speakers are continuing to address the crowd in English and Spanish. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray spoke during the event, touting his pro-immigrant policies, including the recent decision to allow undocumented individuals to obtain drivers licenses. He also tied in the issue of D.C. statehood, asking Congress to let the city go.

Mark Berman
October 8, 1:25 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 1:25 pm

Pelosi: 'Immigration equals innovation'

Michelle Boorstein reports:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), minority leader of the House of Representatives, emphasized to the crowd that “the full diversity” of the House Democrats are behind the immigration measure she introduced last week, and introduced leaders of the African-American, Asian and Latino caucuses.

“The blood of immigrants flows through all our veins,” she said. “Thank you for making America more American.”

Immigration reform, she says, is good for the economy. “Immigration equals innovation,” she said.

She also said that such reforms could reduce the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars in the next two decades.

Mark Berman
October 8, 1:29 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 1:29 pm

Mother and son at the rally

Leah Binkovitz reports:

Daniel Ovando cried when his family drove him to the bus station in Mexico City 18 years ago. Though he had a job in a private medical research laboratory, he wasn’t making enough to support himself and his mother.

“I had a dream to build her a house,” he says.

So he headed north, caught a cab to El Paso and then a Greyhound bus to Baltimore. Now, nearly two decades later, Ovando, 36, is an endoscopy technician at Johns Hopkins Hospital with a work permit.

He came to the rally from Baltimore with his mother, who is visiting the United States for only the second time.

“She feels sad,” he says. “All she wants is justice.”

His mother, speaking with her son as a translator, said families have been separated for decades because of the current system. Ovando began sending money home to his mother every month as soon as he arrived in Baltimore, eventually paying for the construction of her new house.

Mark Berman
October 8, 1:53 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 1:53 pm

Separated families

Michelle Boorstein reports:

Dozens of children from age 3 to 17 filled the stage at one point, all of whom, organizers said, had been separated from family due to deportation.

“My name is Steven Hernandez and I’m 9 years old. My dad was deported last year. This year my uncle was deported,” said one boy, smiling as he read a piece of paper before the crowd. “I want Congress to stop separating my family.”

Reform must be passed “to ensure that these children are not permanently stuck in a second class status,” said John Stocks, executive director of the National Education Association, which organized the children on stage

“We won’t stop until we get a permanent solution that grants dignity and respect to immigrant workers and their families,” Stocks said. “The House of Representatives can make or break these children’s dreams.”

Mark Berman
October 8, 2:11 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 2:11 pm

'I left my first family behind'

Mario Lopez drove to the rally from Ocean City, where both he and his wife work in beach restaurants.

“I left my first family behind, I came and worked for 13 years, and my three older children are all studying with money I sent back,” said Lopez, 53. “I love Mexico, but it is so dangerous now, there is so much killing and the pay is so low.”

His wife Idena, 48, who like Lopez has no legal papers, wept as she recounted being unable to travel home to Mexico to see her parents before they died.

“It has been 17 years, and I never saw them again,” she said. “Now we have a daughter here in America. She is 11 and she wants to be a teacher. I just want to tell the government to stop dividing families who work hard and give up so much.”

Mark Berman
October 8, 2:30 pm
  • Mark Berman October 8, 2:30 pm
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