A crowd of nearly 70 assembled at the intersection of East College Way and North Laventure in Mt. Vernon on Oct. 11, advocating for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The Keep Your Promise Rally aimed to hold Democrats responsible for their campaign promises to fight for immigration reform, echoing their message with 11 other simultaneous rallies across Washington state.
Leaders from local organizations such as OneAmerica and Washington Immigration Service Network gathered alongside people of all ages. Speakers rallied the attendees while organizers led the assembly in enthusiastic chants before they spread across the sidewalk, taking their voices to the busy streets.
Arleen Vargas, organizing director for OneAmerica, hoped their pressure for amnesty and a $107 billion inclusion to Congress’ budget reconciliation package would be heard, especially by Democratic leaders like WA Senator Maria Cantwell, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough shot down an immigration plan this month that would’ve included funds for a pathway to citizenship. There is a push for Democrats to overrule the Parliamentarian and include the package anyway.
Vargas still feels hopeful that real immigration reform can be passed, as Democrats hold the presidential office, the House and the Senate.
For Vargas and many attendees, this power shift feels like a golden opportunity that must be acted upon swiftly.
“We want to make sure that they feel the Washington presence today,” she said. “We are everywhere to make sure that they know what we want from them.”
For the ralliers, amnesty for immigrants under the law is a necessity.
“Every moment they live without status they’re not able to live a full life,” said Faviola Lopez, an organizer and media contact for the event.
The path towards citizenship status is a long, arduous process for many.
"It’s expensive and it takes years off you,” said Ana Thomas, a retired caregiver from Service Employees International Union in Lake Stevens, Washington.
This stress can be overbearing for many immigrants who work extra hard to make up for a lack of healthcare and social security, many still paying taxes. These immigrants, often farm workers here in Washington, function as “the backbone to make sure that our food chain is still up and running,” Vargas said.
Immigrants and activists expect hard work from their elected officials, but many present at the rally felt used.
“They work on it, but when it gets hard, it’s easy to let it go and put other issues on the top,” Lopez said. Organizers at the event said they haven’t seen any meaningful change since the 1970’s.
“I think Democrats have made promises for decades in order to continue to get our votes, yet we haven’t seen those promises fulfilled,” said Miguel Ramirez, co-chair for the Latinx Student Union, a club for Latinx students to find community at Western Washington University.
Jorge Rodriguez, another Latinx Student Union co-chair, shared Ramirez’s critical view.
“The U.S. has a history of destabilizing Latin American nations and then wonders why so many Latin American people come into the U.S.,” he said.
Immigration rights activists called out their representatives, asking them to learn these issues that face immigrants and Latin Americans today.
“Legislators who maybe didn't fully understand the issues to begin with have been given this expanded timeline to learn the issues and listen to farm workers and immigrants and really do something that will be meaningful,” said Liz Darrow, a legislative advocate with Community 2 Community Development and Immigration Advisory Board member with the city of Bellingham.
Without politicians making the changes immigration rights activists want to see, local organizations have had to take on these responsibilities themselves.
“OneAmerica was a part of an effort with [Washington Immigration Service Network] last year to pass $350 million for undocumented unemployment for folks because [they] saw that immigrants in our communities didn't get federal funds,” when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Vargas said.
Community 2 Community Development has been protesting what Darrow said is an unmarked ICE office at the corner of Pacific Highway and Admiral Way in Ferndale, Washington.
“The worst nightmare for undocumented people or for farm workers’ families is to be around here if border patrol show up,” said Rufina Rufina, a peer leader for Washington Immigration Service Network.
But there is only so much that local organizations can do, emphasized ralliers.
“I think that we need more coming from Congress, not just small efforts in local communities,” said Alex Perez, an employee at the Northwest Agricultural Business Center.
The rally organizers and attending activists made it clear that they would settle for nothing less than full amnesty, for everyone.
“We do absolutely want a pathway to citizenship, but we don't want it to further ensnare people who are living, working here, in the detention centers, and deportation,” said Darrow. “Anything that includes a complicated pathway is going to do more harm than good.”
Community 2 Community Development has been advocating for the immigrants left out of legislators’ incomplete attempts at immigration reform. They’ve opposed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, since its initiation in 2019.
In addition to the fact that most farm workers wouldn’t even qualify for its eight year pathway to citizenship, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act sought to expand the H-2A Visa program, which Darrow called “exploitative,” and mandate the E-verify program that has gotten many undocumented immigrants detained or deported.
The act passed this March.
For immigrants and those fighting on their behalf, winning a pathway to citizenship would feel like an acknowledgement of their humanity.
Juan Maldonado, a longtime activist with OneAmerica and radio host in Skagit County, poured out his heart through a megaphone to the crowd and those who were listening.
“No somos ilegales. Somos seres humanos, somos personas que peleamos por los derechos,” he shouted.
Which translates to, “We are not illegals, we are human beings, we are people who fight for our rights.”
A pathway to citizenship is simply equity put into law, emphasized the rally organizers. Having the opportunity to become U.S. citizens would let the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants nationwide finally “be free, live independently, have health insurance, buy a home and work without fear,” said Lopez.
Kai is a senior at Western and has decided to finish his undergrad journey with News/Editorial Journalism. His focus is on social issues and is committed to the people within these stories.