Nevarez, an Albuquerque High School student who immigrated to the United States when he was 6, was one of about 750 people, according to event organizers, who gathered at Civic Plaza in Downtown Albuquerque on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the National Day of Action for Dignity and Respect and to raise awareness about H.R. 15, the federal Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was introduced by House Democrats last Wednesday despite the government shutdown. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, add new types of visas and start a youth jobs program, among other things.
Similar demonstrations were held across the nation in 154 cities.
“I love being here, but sometimes I just wish I could go back,” Nevarez said. “I’m not going back to Mexico until all these people get their families back. It’s something personal.”
Rachel LaZar, executive director of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, said the Senate passed a similar measure in June, and now the House must vote. She said more than 100,000 families have been affected by deportation since June because immigration reform has not been yet been passed.
“We think there are dozens of Republicans who want to support comprehensive reform,” LaZar said. “It’s what American voters want, it’s what we need, so we need them (Republicans) to allow the debate to take place and let it go to a vote.”
On Civic Plaza the group chanted “Sí se puede” while brandishing signs that read “Keep NM families together” and “My parents dream too.” A couple danced to regional Mexican music, while others sat on the plaza steps eating and listening to the speakers, most of whom spoke in Spanish. The rally ended with a three-block long march on Third and Central.
Marisela Rodriguez, an Albuquerque school teacher, came to the United States 14 years ago when her dad got a job as a chef. Although she’s a citizen, she said many of her aunts and uncles are not.
“Some people abuse you because you don’t have papers, they take advantage of you,” Rodriguez said. “I have an uncle who works on side jobs, he works in gardens, and some are like ‘you didn’t do it right’ and they won’t pay him, and there’s nothing he can do. That’s not fair.”
Claudia Benavidez immigrated to El Paso in 1994 and worked legally, but decided to become a citizen so she could vote for President Barack Obama. She became politically active in 2000 when she decided she needed to stick up for her friends and family who were still undocumented.
“I have a lot of friends, they don’t have the luxury, and we need to fight together,” she said. “Their self-esteem is low, they’re ghosts because they don’t have a right, nobody’s going to say nothing because they don’t exist.”
Nevarez couldn’t get any scholarships to attend the University of New Mexico because of his immigration status, but he said he’s trying to take out loans and still pursue his dream of becoming the first person in his family to attend college. He wants to become an immigration lawyer.
Rodriguez said no harm will come from allowing a path to citizenship.
“They’re not here to take anything; they just want opportunities, because unfortunately our countries aren’t doing as well,” Rodriguez said.