A march is planned in Oak Cliff today to demand immigration reforms; it's part of a national day of advocacy to push Congress to act this summer, before Washington is swamped by the presidential campaign. Advocates want "comprehensive" reform, a policy that would include not only additional border enforcement, but a guest-worker progam and a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
Coordinated with similar events in Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities, the Dallas march is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at Santa Cecilia Catholic Church in Oak Cliff, and end at the corner of West Jefferson Boulevard and Beckley Avenue. If it rains, organizers say they'll hold the demonstration in the church's gymnasium.
As President Bush has watched his political clout on foreign policy plummet, he's stepped up calls for domestic reforms, and immigration is on the top of his list. He urged lawmakers in a speech last weekend to overcome their differences to take action, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has dedicated the last two weeks of May to debate immigration legislation.
The latest congressional effort is a proposal sponsored by Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Some immigrant advocates say the bill's "touchback" requirement, which demands illegal immigrants return to their home countries and wait for legal residency applications to be processed, is too punitive, while critics on the other side say it amounts to amnesty despite the fines and touchback provision.
The mounting pressure for action has included lobbying from both sides of the debate, with protests like the one at Dallas City Hall last month. Then, just last week, 35 conservative radio show hosts descended upon Washington, D.C., demanding that lawmakers oppose comprehensive reforms.
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But this spring's pro-immigrant events have proved smaller than last year's. Last month's event at City Hall drew just a few thousand people, a paltry showing compared to the 500,000-strong Mega March in 2006. Why? Organizers and analysts offer a number of explanations, from fear due to growing enforcement raids and restrictive laws like the ones passed in Farmers Branch, to claims that the focus has shifted from marches and protests to more practical actions such as voter registration and letter-writing.
Alberto Ruiz, one of the organizers of today's Oak Cliff event, tells Unfair Park he's not sure how many people to expect. "It's really tough to say," he says. "We're really just gonna have to hope that enough people are feeling the urgency on this issue to come out."
He says more people attended last year because they were responding to a clear, direct threat -- the 2005 bill passed by the House that would have made entering the country illegally a felony. "It's so much easier to react to something when you know what you're against," he says. "Last year we knew it was, 'No on 1447.' Period. This year, we don't have that enemy with a face, or a name."
When I asked if the comprehensive immigration reform movement, which seems to be split on the Flake-Gutierrez bill, risks demanding too much and in the end winding up with nothing, he said, "I think our Congress has enough talent, knowledge and history to make something happen." Well, we'll see. --Megan Feldman