Over 4,000 gathered in downtown Des Moines Sunday afternoon to rally against federal legislation that would make it a felony to be in the country illegally.
Buses brought participants from as far away as Sioux City and the Quad Cities. Organizers like Sandra Sanchez of Granger, a Des Moines suburb, were concerned by the image of the assembled throng and while Mexican flags had been heavily featured at similar rallies in other U.S. cities, there were only two visible in the Des Moines crowd.
“Thank you very much for following the directions. We asked you to wear white, and you did,” Sanchez said. “We asked you to bring American flags because we are proud of being in this country, aren’t we?”
A man with a bullhorn led the crowd in chants before Sanchez kicked off the rally. “Do we want to be Americans?” Sanchez asked, and the crowd replied with whistles, cheers and clapping, and words like “Si” and “Yes.” Her other questions — “Do we want legalization?” and “Do we believe in justice?” — were met with similar outbursts.
The U.S. House has passed a bill that calls for tougher border controls and it would make it a felony to be in the country illegally. The U.S. Senate has been debating the issue for the past couple of weeks. A compromise plan offering a “pathway” to citizenship for the more than 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the country has stalled.
Alex Orozco of Des Moines is organizing a group called “United for the Dignity and Safety of Immigrants.” “It’s a peaceful movement that functions under the philosophy of safeguarding the rights and social justice that immigrants deserve, with an emphasis to those (who) are undocumented,” Orozco said.
Raul Flores, who said he was from Mexico, was at the rally with his wife and children. “We try to do something good,” Flores said. “We are not here for trouble. We just support the cause.”
Lionel Hernandez of Perry was at the rally with his family, too. “We try to make a difference, you know, because it ain’t fair,” said. “We don’t come here to do other things, you know, to make crimes or to sell drugs. We come here because we want to work. We want a better life.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics or Latinos make up about 2.8 percent of Iowa’s population and are the state’s largest minority group. If it were not for the growth in Iowa’s Hispanic population, the state would have lost population from 1990 to 2000.
Immigration has been a hot topic among the Republicans competing for Iowa’s first congressional district seat and Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Kiron in western Iowa, has advocated building a fence along the U.S./Mexico border to curb illegal immigration.