WASHINGON, D.C. – The “March for Migrants” arrived at the U.S. capital Wednesday to press for defeat of pending legislation that envisions a high double fence along the border with Mexico and would make coming to the country without a visa a crime.
One of the organizers, Enrique Morones, said that participants in the cross-country caravan hope to convince lawmakers to “legalize the people who are already in the U.S., to not build the wall and to humanize immigration legislation.”
The procession set out on Feb. 2 from near the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego and after a detour to Sacramento, California’s capital, began its eastward trek across the southern tier of states to Washington.
The immediate goal of the march is persuading the Senate to reject HR4437, a bill passed in December by the House of Representatives that would not only authorize construction of hundreds of miles of additional barriers along the border with Mexico but would also make unlawfully entering the United States a criminal offense, meaning that undocumented migrants could face jail terms in addition to deportation (NT, Feb. 17).
The measure’s sponsor, Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner, also wants to criminalize the activity of U.S. groups and individuals who assist illegal immigrants, including those who offer them food, water or first aid.
To stress their opposition to more barriers, the rights campaigners chose to begin the procession just yards away from the border fence in San Diego.
Members of the Gente Unida (People United) coalition also adorned the barrier with wooden crosses bearing the names of migrants who died while trying to slip across the border into the United States.
Morones, a veteran Mexican-American activist from San Diego, said that the point of the march is “to tell people that more than 4,000 deaths on the border – people who came to look for work – is not an insignificant number, it’s not a fact that is forgotten, buried with a new immigration initiative.”
He said he wants senators in Washington to know and understand the realities of the border before they vote on Sensenbrenner’s bill.
Last year, a total of 465 migrants perished while trying to cross the border, more than half of them succumbing to dehydration or the elements in the deserts of Arizona.
Clergy, human rights organizations and friends of the activists have provided lodging to members of the caravan, who have taken part in meetings and public events on the way to Washington.
Organizers began the march on Feb. 2 because that date is the anniversary of the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, under which Mexico ceded more than half of its then-territory to the United States after nearly two years of war.