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Immigration Rally Draws Many Asians


New America Media/ UW News Lab , News Report, Ashleen Aguilar

SEATTLE -- Thousands of activists gathered in downtown Seattle April 10 to rally for comprehensive immigration reform. The Washington Immigration Reform Coalition (WIRC) For America, a collection of more than 60 human rights groups statewide, hosted the event in Pioneer Square as a part of the National Day of Action. Asian leaders played a key role in the demonstration. 

“This rally is about demanding immigration reform legislation at the federal level by April 30,” said Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, one of the largest immigrant rights groups in the state. “President [Barack] Obama promised during his campaign that he would enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation in his first year, and it’s now well past that time and he hasn’t done it.” 

Jayapal said Seattle’s rally and another in Las Vegas were two of the largest assemblies for immigration reform in the country on Saturday. There were also events held in Illinois, New Jersey and New York. 

“Frankly, I think a lot of anger has been turned into hope for a bill,” Jayapal said. “So you're seeing people hitting the streets in a way we haven't seen in a long time.” 

Event coordinators estimated nearly 8,000 activists made it out to the rally at its peak, including many Asian groups. 

“There are about 1 million Asians living in this country who are undocumented, so comprehensive immigration reform is really key to our community,” said Diane Narasaki, executive director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service. 

Thu Van Nguyen, a member of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, joined other immigrants on stage to represent the Vietnamese community. She called for immigration reform in her native tongue. 

“We have a right to gather and show our legislators what we want,” said Nguyen. “We want our legislators to see we need immigration reform now.” 

WIRC For America has already garnered support from many Washington state representatives. Washington’s U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell sent video messages that were played at the rally. King County Executive Dow Constantine and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, spoke in front of the thousands. 

McDermott recognized that many who are against immigration reform are focused on Mexicans and Latin Americans. "But if you look around this audience, people come from all over the world," he said. 

Jayapal outlined four points that many immigrant rights leaders believe the immigration bill should address: legalization for undocumented immigrants, clearing the visa backlogs so families can be together, protecting migrant workers’ rights, and ensuring due process in the system. 

First, they want legalization for current undocumented immigrants, especially for those who make up a majority of the labor force. 

“Immigrant entrepreneurs create jobs that Americans, as well as other immigrants, want,” said Narasaki. “Immigrants and refugees are the backbone of this economy.” 
A second point activists want the immigration bill to address is making the process faster and easier to reunite families who have been split apart by the broken immigration system. Narasaki said there are two million Asians in the visa backlogs, some who have been waiting 20 years to join their families. 

Third, lobbyists call for the bill to protect workers’ rights to make sure they are treated fairly and civilly. 
“We have a history in this state of seeing how immigrant workers were brought in to do all kinds of labor, and [they were] manipulated and abused because they didn’t have fair labor standards or worker protection because of their status,” Jayapal said. 

Finally, advocates look to the bill to ensure due process within the immigration system.

“There are about 9,000 Southeast Asians that are facing deportation, including Vietnamese, who need restoration of judicial review and due process to protect their rights,” Narasaki said. 

Campaigners are calling for these things to be presented in a bill by April 30, Jayapal said to the roaring cheers of the crowd. 

“Movements do not wait for things to happen,” she said. “Movements make things happen.”



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