Thousands of people attended. As a practicing immigration lawyer, it was a welcome and long-overdue recharge. Those who are against reform - or those who are just against immigrants - frequently talk in terms of laws, numbers and jobs. The citizenship rally was a stark reminder that the issue of immigration reform is an inescapably human issue. And yes, that means it involves the civil rights of human beings. It's an important way to frame the debate over immigration policy. As I've blogged about before, words like "illegal alien" or "criminal alien" shape perceptions of immigrants who came here illegally or fell out of status, because they dehumanize.
Slavery was justified not only Scripturally, but legally. The law simply did not recognize the relationships of the slave family, because the members of that family were not human. Likewise other shameful traditions, such as denying women's suffrage, or segregation, were justified by appeals to (interpretations of) religion, culture, economics...anything to take away the human face of the civil right violation. It's hard not to see the immigration restrictionists in the same vein.
I overheard Roy Beck, a representative of NumbersUSA, a restrictionist organization, speak to the BBC. He, too, framed the debate in terms of the economic cost of undocumented people (specifically, jobs he said Americans were losing) and rather contemptuously nodded to "all this talk about rights." I was struck not only by the contempt he showed for these "rights" - but also the assumption that his economic data trumped them.
Leaving aside the fact that accurate statistics for such a complex issue are going to be hard to come by - the rally reminded me of the human face of the immigrant rights movement. That's an enormous boon for someone who works in the broken system day in and day out. I was interviewed by PressTV and part of my frustration at the current system stems from the fact that immigrant rights are civil rights, and the violation of a civil right is morally wrong.
Here is a small gallery of photos I took at the rally.