Calling for “real, comprehensive immigration reform,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) blasted legislation now stalled in the House of Representatives that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and those who help them.
Flanked by community leaders of various ethnicities and religions, Lee spoke to the press before going outside to address the thousands of people at a rally that packed the Federal Building courtyard.
“I don’t support a wall and I don’t think the Minutemen should be driving this debate,” Lee said.
The fact that H.R. 4437 is stalled in Congress—the House and Senate are far from agreeing on immigration reform—“is a testament to the power of the people,” Lee said, adding that what is needed is a “path to citizenship.”
The congresswoman roundly condemned the notion that undocumented persons are terrorists and also criticized the notion of guest workers, a program where workers are brought to the United States for a certain period of time and then returned to their home country. Unions condemn this program because they say workers would have few rights under it.
“I hope [the guest worker program] never sees the light of day,” Lee said.
Some of the people standing with Lee at the press conference will be part of a committee she is assembling to address the issue of immigration. A few addressed reporters.
“We in the Jewish community have the experience of tightly-sealed borders,” Rabbi David Cooper of the Kehilla Community Congregation said. “The Torah tells us we were once resident aliens in the land.”
Addressing the part of H.R.4437 that would criminalize those who help the undocumented, Rev. Kelvin Sauls of Downs Memorial United Methodist Church said the bill puts people in the position of choosing whether to be good citizens or Good Samaritans. Fr. Tony Valdivia, of St. Louis Bertrand Catholic Church, pointed to the road ahead: “Today we march, but we have homework to do—tomorrow we vote.”
After speaking to the press, Lee joined the rally outside the Federal Building. Marchers, estimated at 50,000 by organizer Yvette Felarca, had walked down International Boulevard to downtown.
The crowd that heard Lee speak was dotted with American and Mexican flags and signs that read: “Paz, Justicia, Libertad;” “Give all working immigrants amnesty;” “U.S.A. made by immigrants.”
The ebullient protesters quieted to hear Lee, who was one of a number of speakers. “We are a nation of immigrants,” she said, noting that across the country there were millions of people marching. “I’m proud to march with you,” she said.
Lee added that all immigrants must be honored: African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Asian and Latin American and she thanked the crowd for protesting, for “speaking out, for forcing America to live out its creed of liberty and justice for all.””