As many as 500,000 men, women and children marched for immigration reform Sunday, reveling in President Barack Obama’s televised commitment to reform a “broken immigration system” this year.
The message, essentially a repeat of what he had said earlier, was broadcast via large television screens near the stage. The endorsement had special weight because it came just hours before the House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill that will reform the country’s health care system.
“For me watching the president say he was going to reform the immigration system gave me hope,” said Esperanza, of Berkeley, whose husband is currently fighting deportation proceedings.
Amid a sea of American flags, the crowd of mostly Latino immigrants with pockets of immigrants from Ireland, Haiti and elsewhere, cheered at every command by the presenter. Some cried when they heard the testimony from others.
Jaci Braga, from PICO, a network of faith-based groups that put together the cross-country bus ride from San Francisco to Washington D.C., said the Bay Area group fared well because they had representatives in all four scheduled events. Some 70 riders arrived from the Bay Area, including three from the Mission District and 12 from San Francisco.
Rebeca, a fifth-grader from Berkeley, got a standing ovation this morning after speaking at the breakfast meeting. The crowd included six of California’s congressional leaders who listened attentively as she told the emotional story of discovering that she was not an American citizen, but arrived with her parents when she was only two months old.
Later she gave interviews to seven different television affiliates.
Jesus Nieto-Ruiz, a pastor at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Oakland and one of the 10 leaders who will meet with Senator Barbara Boxer on Tuesday to discuss immigration reform, was part of a special mass at St. Aloysius’s Church in Washington.
Yesenia, 16, of Oakland, gave testimony of her mother’s situation during a pre-rally event in front of the White House.
She said she was nervous and grateful that that no one engaged in a confrontation with a small group of anti-immigration protesters.
Mable Kimble and Sandy Diaz, from UC Berkeley, went onstage at the National Mall to speak on behalf of PICO and the cross-country bus “pilgrimage.”
Organizers were optimistic about the outcome of the rally and said they are ready for anything, including a backlash from from anti-immigrant forces.
“We will challenge them,” said Braga, echoing others who said that this march is just a beginning.
On Monday evening organizers from the Bay Area have scheduled meetings with staff from the offices of Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Organizers in San Francisco are expecting hundreds for a follow up rally on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in front of Feinstein’s San Francisco office. For those on the bus, it will be the final stop.