WASHINGTON – Hundreds of immigration supporters,holding signs and waving American flags,stood in Meridian Hill Park Monday anticipating the start of the immigration march to the National Mall.
Charles Vela stood in front of the chanting crowd,calmly waiting. A bright yellow sign hung around his neck: “I'm not a criminal; I'm a PhD.”
Vela,54,a Washington scientist and strategic consultant,and a U.S. citizen,said he wanted to make clear how much immigrants contribute to American society.
“It's important for the people who are part of the national fabric,people who are part of the economy and who send their children to Iraq,” he said. “It's not fair to single Latinos out.”
The rally,one of many that took place around the country,was organized to demand immigration reform that would put many immigrations on their way to citizenship.
“It would be inhumane to separate Latinos from their children,” Vela said. “It would be worse than the Gestapo.”
Born in San Salvador,El Salvador,Vela came with his parents to San Francisco when he was young. He grew up there and attended California State University. Later he earned a degree in engineering from the University of Mexico in Mexico City.
His three children are training to be scientists,too,he said. His two sons attend Stanford and Georgia Tech,and his daughter goes to Berkeley. All three were participating in rallies in other cities.
“We love America more than anyone else,” Vela said. “We are American by choice.”
Behind Vela,the marchers' chanting grew louder as they called for President Bush to listen to their demands for legalization. Many young men and women were leading the chants.
“Look at them!” Vela said. “I wish I was 15 again.”
“It's wonderful because they have awakened politically,” he said. “They will worry about success and defending our rights.”
Bush has proposed a three-part immigration plan that would allow immigrants who have been here and worked for a time to earn citizenship. Those who have been here a short time would have to leave,and those in between would have to re-enter the country. Congress left town Friday for a two-week Easter recess without agreeing on a bill.
Cindy Moreira,a 15-year-old from Hylton High School in Woodbridge,Va.,came to the rally on one of five buses from her area. She and two other young women carried a sign for a laborers' union.
“We're here to protest and to let them know we're going to stand together,” she said. “We're part of America.”
Moreira's family is from Bolivia,where she was born.
“We're here for a better life,” she said. “We're not all criminals.”