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According to a Pew Research Center poll from May, a majority of Americans, 69%, believe there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the states if they meet certain requirements. Photo: CASA For All

“Welcome Back Congress” brings demand for pathway to citizenship to D.C.

Welcome back Congress, it’s time to get things done.

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On Tuesday, Sept.21, Congress returned from their recess, and thousands of immigrants, allies, and community members from across the country marched to the U.S Capitol to demand that Congress ensure a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation budget package.

Participating organizations include CASA, Fair Immigration Reform Movement, Center for Popular Democracy, United Farm Workers Foundation, United We Dream, Mijente, Community Change Action and more.

The “Welcome Back Congress” march, organized by the grassroots immigrant advocacy organization, officially began on Tuesday morning, as a sea of protesters chanted “Congreso, escucha, estamos en la lucha,” (Congress, listen, we are in the fight), with each repetition growing louder.

On Sunday, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that existing budget rules prevent the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation package. ]

Illinois Rep. Jesús García addressed the crowd, insisting that this is not the time to be discouraged and give up.

“We’ve been here before. We’ve got to keep on fighting like hell for our families, friends and neighbors, and we can’t stop until we get a ‘yes,’” García said. 

The march began at Banneker Park and the crowd formed a column as wide as the street on Maine Avenue. Groups from over 20 states, as far away as Oregon, created a patchwork of color with their shirts. Glimmers of red, yellow and blue divided the crowd, and the U.S flag flew next to that of Mexico, alongside posters in English, Spanish and other languages. 

One sign read, “I should be in class right now, but I have to fight for my rights.” 

The demonstrators paused in the tunnel under 1-395, coming together in a powerfully unified voice, chanting “sí se puede” (yes we can.) After emerging from the tunnel, the crowd stopped in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters. 

Despite some light rain, the protesters remained in high spirits as they chanted and waved their signs. 

Madison Green, a freshman environmental science and public health major at the University of Maryland, attended her classes virtually while traveling to the protest. 

“My grandmother, my mother are immigrants, they come from Panama and I’m blessed enough to have papers, but not everyone is,” she told The Washington Post, while waving a Panamanian flag. 

“We’re here to fight for people who are targeted every day by the system that doesn’t benefit them even though they uphold that system,” Green said. 

As the march arrived at its ending point between the Grant Memorial and the reflection pool, the protesters welcomed Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

“We will not stop fighting for immigrants to access the rights and privileges they deserve,” Omar said to the crowd as an organizer translated her speech into Spanish. 

Outside ICE headquarters on Tuesday afternoon, someone in the crowd began playing the popular Spanish/Portuguese song “Danza Kuduro” and 57-year-old Maria Ana Bolanos started banging on a pot with a drumstick to the beat.

A crowd then formed a circle around Bolanos and cheered her on as she danced in front of the agency that has deported so many undocumented immigrants. After dancing in the streets of the nation’s capital, Bolanos said she felt “happy and powerful.” 

Maria Chavalan Sut, an Indigenous Mayan woman from Guatemala and mother of four, sat on the grass as speakers took the stage outside the Capitol building. The 47-year-old reflected on her own journey of seeking asylum in the U.S. 

It started with ICE detention, a missed court date that she never knew she had, and an ankle monitor and the looming threat of deportation. Sut was finally given sanctuary at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville in September 2018. 

Sut doesn’t want the leaders to forget about the undocumented immigrants who sheltered in sanctuary churches for years under the Trump administration, like she did, and hopes that they pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for everyone. 

“I don’t want anyone else to go through the injustices that I went through,” she told the Washington Post

Minutes later, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke to the crowd and promised to keep fighting for a pathway to citizenship. As he left, protesters chanted, “Do your job!”

According to a Pew Research Center poll from May, a majority of Americans, 69%, believe there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the states if they meet certain requirements. 

Although MacDonough ruled against including these immigration measures in the budget package, Omar said at the rally that Schumer and the White House have the option to disregard her advice, “and they must.” 

“This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do the right thing and create an immigration system that brings humanity to the forefront,” Omar said.

Welcome back Congress, it’s time to get things done. 

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