Immigrants March in DC for Reform, Family Reunification

Tens of thousands called for immigration reform at Citizenship for 11 Million rally on April 10. (Photo by Bing Branigin via Feet in 2 Worlds)

Tens of thousands of immigrants and activists joined the Citizenship for 11 Million rally on Wednesday in Washington D.C., to call on politicians to reform an immigration system that has broken the lives of many families, including those of New Yorkers whom Feet in 2 World‘s Cristina DC Pastor spoke to at the march. Everyone had their own sobering story to tell.

Magdolyn Kawas, a Palestinian immigrant whose father has been deported, was one of the rallyists. So was Juan Carlos Romero from Mexico who, despite two businesses, feels unwelcome in America, and Sara Martinez who sells cosmetics while awaiting her deportation to Ecuador.

“It’s very tough,” said Kawas, a Political Science graduate of Brooklyn College. “My mom had to work for the first time (since my father’s deportation). But before that, she had to learn English.”

The entrepreneurial Romero said he may have established his own businesses, a grocery store and a flower shop in Philadelphia, but still feels like a criminal. “I feel like I am in jail,” he said. “I cannot visit my family in Mexico.”

Like Romero, who is an undocumented immigrant, Sara Martinez said immigration has caused her separation from her husband. She is now living with a common-law-husband from Uruguay with whom she has a daughter named after Hillary Clinton.

“I want my daughter to grow up to be a strong American woman,” she said.

Demonstrators show their support for immigration reform. (Photo by Cristina Pastor via Feet in 2 Worlds)

Hundreds of Asian immigrants from New York took six buses to march in the Washington, D.C., rally, with the help of the New York Immigration Coalition, Korean-American advocate MinKwon Center for Community Action, and immigrant civil rights group New York State Immigrant Action Fund.

For May Chen, president of the Immigration Action Fund, when it comes to immigration reform, it’s a matter of bringing families together again instead of leaving millions – especially from the Philippines, India and China – stuck in backlogs of over a decade, or even two.

At the heart of “real” immigration reform is family unity, she said. About 4.3 million family members are locked in family reunification backlogs. Of that number 1.8 million are Asian immigrants.

Citing reports, she said a U.S. citizen petitioning a brother or sister from the Philippines must wait about 23 years, and 12 years for a family in India under similar circumstances. A married son or daughter from China must wait 11 years for a petition to be approved.

Families from Latin America face similar circumstances when it comes to the wait to reunite family members.

Immigration lawyer Rio Guerrero, who attended the rally, said immigrants from Mexico and other Latin-speaking countries wait an average of 17 years for family-based petitions.

“And what about aunts, uncles and cousins? Or, at least grandparents?” asked Guerrero, whose parents come from the Philippines. “In many countries, people consider grandparents and other close family members to be a vital part of their immediate family. Unfortunately, U.S. immigration laws do not allow for a reasonable path to reunite with these family members.”

Visit Feet in 2 Worlds for the full article, as well as for more photos from the march.

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