Immigrants and advocates alike took the streets of downtown Phoenix and other major cities across the United States to pressure Congress into a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system.
More than 4,000 red shirts walked from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish to the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse Oct. 5 during the “National Day of Dignity and Respect.” Marchers carried signs that read “Immigration reform now!” “No more raids” and “Papers for my parents.”
“Unfortunately, immigration reform has become a political question,” said Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, who spoke to marchers outside the church. “For us in the Church, it’s a religious question. Jesus Christ told us that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Him.”
The march processed behind a float with statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the risen Christ. A couple dozen matchines, traditional Mexican dancers that honor the Blessed Mother, followed close behind.
Marchers raised American flags while they cried “Sí se puede” and other chants that referred to their unity. Young and old alike took part in the peaceful protest, with parents pushing their children in strollers or carrying them on their shoulders.
Christians are required to be “the voice for the voiceless,” Bishop Nevares said. “We must recognize the dignity of each human person and the dignity of the family. It is our religion that brings us here to stand for the most vulnerable in our society.”
Silvia Villasana, a parishioner at St. Jerome, hopes the march will pressure legislators to do something for “those of us who don’t have rights,” adding that “these are rights we receive from God.” News that other states were approving drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants gave her hope, she said.
“There’s always hope,” said Armando Contreras, former executive director of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona. “This is not political. This is based on the teachings of the Catholic Church. This is based on Christ. Our hope comes from prayer and action.”
The Pew Research Center estimates there are more than 11 million immigrants living in the United States without proper paperwork. Thousands have died in the last 20 years while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
“People are suffering and dying. We just hope this comes through,” said Frank Barrios, who serves on the board of directors of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. “We hope the numbers put pressure on Congress to pass immigration reform. It has to pass.”