Posted on February 22, 2013 at 7:38 PM
Friday, Feb 22 at 7:52 PM
AUSTIN -- By the hundreds they marched down Congress Avenue, their voices raised both in Spanish and in English.
"Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha!" shouted demonstrators. The phrase roughly translates to "Listen Obama, we are in the fight!"
Ranging in age from children to the elderly, the crowd included groups of high school and college students, marching as they shouted, "education, not deportation!"
Carrying signs and American flags, they climbed the steps to the Texas State Capitol to deliver a message to lawmakers.
"We want a fair pathway to citizenship, one that will take years and not decades," said Esther Reyes of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition. "We want our families to be united, and perhaps the most important message that we're giving today, because it's something that's a fallacy that's being perpetuated in [Washington] D.C., is that we don't need any more militarization of our border."
"It should be common sense," said Michael Medina, a student from Texas border town of McAllen. "Equality is common sense."
Friday's rally comes amid a potential sea change regarding the politics of immigration reform. After President Barack Obama was reelected in November with 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, many Republicans at the state and national level have voiced concerns that the rhetoric used in discussing the issue of illegal immigration may have turned many Hispanic voters away.
At an Austin church last week, national Republican activist Grover Norquist appealed to conservatives to take a more moderate tone regarding undocumented immigrants and the debate over immigration reform. Appearing emotional, Norquist suggested talk radio and a handful of outspoken national figures are to blame for Republicans being stereotyped as "anti-immigrant."
"We've had some very loud voices, some very unnecessarily angry voices that have been too loud," said Norquist. "And the reason they've been allowed to be heard is that the other people, people here, have been silent."
Meanwhile, Texas' newly-elected Republican Senator Ted Cruz called Obama's proposal for a pathway to citizenship a campaign ploy, arguing instead for tougher border security. During the 2012 election, Cruz advocated for a border wall stretching from Texas to California. He also called the president's executive action to defer deportation for children brought to the country illegally as children "illegal."
"In my opinion the single biggest obstacle to passing common sense immigration reform right now is President Barack Obama," Cruz told reporters during a media conference Tuesday in Leander.
"Our borders are more secure than they've been in 40 years," said Reyes. "We've doubled our manpower along the border in the past ten years. We have 22,000 Border Patrol agents currently on our border and net migration from Mexico is at zero. So our migration is low. We need no more deaths, there are 400 to 500 deaths at the border right now. No more militarization, no more criminalization, we want a fair pathway to citizenship."
In Texas, state Republicans adopted the "Texas Solution" as part of the 2012 statewide party platform. Championed by conservative Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, the policy calls for implementation of a guest worker program that would allow some undocumented immigrants to continue working in Texas as tax paying employees.
"I think it's right. I think this is something that works," Patterson told KVUE in an Austin 2012 interview. "It gets us beyond the rhetoric, it gets us beyond the bumper sticker cliches, it moves the ball forward. It enhances our national and state security, it helps our economy, it collects more taxes. It eliminates the underground economy of cash payment for folks who never pay withholding. It's just a no-brainer."
Advocates for immigration reform have leveled complaints against Obama as well, citing frustration largely over the record number of deportations conducted under his administration. Supporters of the DREAM Act, that allows a pathway to citizenship for students brought to the country illegally as children, have also criticized the president for failing to move the legislation forward.
"There's a specific witness both in the New Testament where Jesus says, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me,' as well as the Old Testament where God reminds the people of God to welcome strangers into the land," said Rev. Todd Salmi, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in San Marcos.
One of a number of religious leaders and clergy attending Friday's rally, Salmi suggested it's time to put politics aside.
"I'm here for the rights of people, of the rights of human beings," said Salmi. "And one of those is through immigration reform."