More than 2,000 people marched through downtown Miami on Saturday urging Congress and President Barack Obama to speed up enactment of an immigration reform law to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants in the country.
“We don’t want any more blah-blah-blah, we want immigration reform now,” community organizer Francisco Portillo of Miami-based Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization told a rally before the march set out from Little Havana’s José Martí Park.
“Residence yes, deportation no!,” added another rally speaker, Marleine Bastien of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami).
The crowd responded with chants of “Stop Deportations!” and “Immigration Reform Now!”
It was the biggest pro-immigration reform march in Miami since a series of rallies and demonstrations in 2006 drew thousands during the last big push in Congress for legalization of the undocumented — an effort that failed.
The march is one of the first major events nationwide in the run-up to possible congressional action soon on a proposal to overhaul immigration law.
Eight senators, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, a Cuban American from West Miami, are now drafting a bipartisan bill that would legalize more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
A rally that is expected to draw tens of thousands of community, labor and immigrant rights supporters and immigrant families is scheduled for Wednesday on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Some of the demonstrators who participated in Saturday’s Miami event said they plan to travel to Washington to attend that rally.
Saturday’s rally at José Martí Park and the three-hour march through downtown Miami that concluded at the Torch of Friendship in Bayfront Park mirrored South Florida’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Demonstrators included Haitians, Central Americans, Mexicans, Cubans, Asians — as well several prominent community leaders, including Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
Demonstrators cheered Wenski not only because he addressed them in Creole and Spanish, but also because he walked with them for the entire length of the march that stretched 20 blocks from Little Havana to Bayfront Park in downtown Miami under a blazing sun.
The event began at José Martí Park next to the soaring expressway ramps near the corner of Calle Ocho and Interstate 95.
After immigrant rights leaders like Bastien and Portillo addressed demonstrators, family members of undocumented immigrants who have been detained or deported by immigration authorities told their stories.
Marbelis Soza described how immigration authorities recently detained her brother, Noe, and took him to the Krome detention center for possible deportation to Nicaragua.
‘Noe is the fourth person in my family to be facing deportation,” she said.
Another speaker was María Salome, a 9-year-old Venezuelan-American girl whose mother, María Jose Urdaneta, was deported four years ago.
“This special and good woman, my mother, was unjustly deported in 2009,” said María with great poise.
Regalado told demonstrators that Miami was a city of immigrants from its start.
‘It is important we tell Washington there is a need for immigration reform,” Regalado said .
“We are here to demand our rights as human beings,” said Wenski, speaking Spanish. Then he switched to Creole, saying: “It isn’t that immigrants are violating the law, but the law is violating the rights of the immigrants.”
After the speeches, the demonstrators left the park and walked toward downtown in the shadow of skyscrapers along Southwest First Street.
As marchers passed businesses and office buildings, employees came out to wave at them and cheer them on. A man leaning out of an office window in a tall building repeatedly flashed victory signs with his hands at the demonstrators below.