Hundreds Protest Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric on MLK Day
More than one thousand people rallied together with the message “We Are Here To Stay” on Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. Then President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises on immigration were under fire as not only Latinos, but representatives from all races showed up to mobilize in opposition. Protesters were concerned about what the future holds, but said they committed to change it rather than be paralyzed by fear. “The power of an individual to make change is multiplied by the power of WE,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) at the podium.
So many people packed into the church that the rally extended into the basement where the speakers were watched on a projector and the audio was played on loudspeakers. The event still reached capacity and 300 attendees stood outside to chant in the streets. A variety of signs and shirts featured slogans such as “Resist Trumps Hate,” “Stop Trumps Fascist regime,” “Legalize Me” and “Don’t Deport My Dad/Mom.” Recurring chants of “Si Se Puede” (Yes, We Can) and “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos” (We are here and we are not leaving) erupted between speeches.
Many people in the United States had been scared of being separated from their families or upended from their communities as the days rolled closer to inauguration.
Along with the rally in D.C., more than 70 events were held nationwide according to a CASA de Maryland spokesperson. Along with CASA, the other groups who helped coordinate these peaceful protests were United We Dream, Service Employees International Union, Make The Road New York, and United Here. CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres served as the master of ceremonies in between speakers in the District, which included Van Hollen, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) and SEIU International President Mary K. Henry.
The panic birthed from Trump’s campaign rhetoric was abundant in the room. “We just want to make sure we are standing up against hate and discrimination and bigotry in this nation” said Claudia Quinohez in an interview.
Fatima Coreas said of the event, “This is a call to our senators and representatives around the country to create sanctuary cities that will protect the dignity and the lives of undocumented immigrants.” During his campaign, Trump said many things that rubbed the immigrant communities the wrong way, such as referring to them as potential rapists and drug smugglers in a June 16, 2015. Numerous times on the campaign trail, he also said he would deport all illegal immigrants in his first 100 days and plans to build a wall along the border of Mexico.
What Trump didn’t say was what he was going to do about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program that helps many children of immigrants obtain employment, driver’s licenses and Social Security cards.
Protecting DACA was another rallying cry on Saturday. Many DACA recipients came up to the podium to share their stories, including Michelle Williams, an African American who spoke about the “diverse faces of immigrant America.” Martin Batalla-Videl came to America at 7 years old and settled in Queens, New York. He eventually went to the High School of Academic Excellence in Brooklyn and DACA helped him procure a higher paid job which allows him to be independent. Batalla-Videl is currently in secondary education studying to be a registered nurse. “Without DACA, this wouldn’t be possible.
Immigration wasn’t the only thing touched on by the multicultural orators. Healthcare, Planned Parenthood and LGBT rights were all discussed throughout the event. Imam Johari Abdul Malik insisted that “[we] fight over the right to citizenship for every citizen in this nation.” He ended with a message of equality stating that, “we all came over on different ships, but now we’re in the same boat.” Chants of “No Muslim Registry” broke out amongst the unified crowd.
“Our strength is our resilience,” said Max Kim, a 19-year-old speaker from South Korea who learned he was undocumented in high school after living here since age 5. The energized crowd dispersed into the rain, with many ready to march. Rumors swirled that the precession was going to protest in front of Jeff Sessions’ home. However, the busses took several hundred people back to Pennsylvania and New Jersey Avenues to march on the White House’s north side.
“The media coverage was more than they imagined” said Erika Hernandez, a CASA communication specialist. The rally at Metropolitan AME coincided with the “We Shall Not Be Moved” march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, led by Rev. Al Sharpton, which drew thousands of protestors and a Twitter response from Donald Trump. Both marches shared criticisms of the then president-elect as well as themes of community solidarity spanning many social justice initiatives.