WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, January 9, more than 300 advocates traveled across the country and joined Members of Congress and community members to urge Senators to reject anti-immigrant proposals that would gut our asylum system, separate families, and send vulnerable people back to danger. During the rally, Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) stood side by side with asylum seekers, immigration activists, labor and border leaders, and faith leaders at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation to raise their demands.
Members of Congress and leaders were joined by representatives from ACLU, Amnesty International USA, CASA, Community Change Action, Haitian Bridge Alliance, HIAS, Human Rights First, Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef), Immigration Hub, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Justice Action Center, Make the Road Connecticut, Make the Road Nevada, Make the Road New Jersey, MoveOn, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, International Mayan League, National Immigration Law Center, New York Immigration Coalition, Refugee Service/USA Justice Action Center, Tahirih Justice Center, Vera Institute of Justice, Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center (NJ), Women’s Refugee Commission, and #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign.
This bold showing of solidarity comes as Congress members return to Capitol Hill after the winter recess to resume ongoing backroom negotiations over short-term foreign aid that may result in seismic, disastrous changes to the nation’s asylum and immigration laws.
Remarks shared by speakers during the rally are as follows:
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) said: “After 30 years of inaction, if we make a deal to limit access to asylum that doesn’t help a single farmworker, essential worker, or Dreamer, we should be ashamed of ourselves. No matter how you spin it, the policies reportedly being considered in this deal come straight from the Trump Playbook — all to appease Republicans who already support aid for Ukraine. Our nation of immigrants deserves so much better.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), said: “As the only immigrant currently serving in the Senate, I understand that our immigration system needs to be reformed, but pitting vulnerable groups against each other is a recipe for bad policymaking. We can’t let Republicans hold one-time funding hostage for drastic, permanent policy changes that would further weaken our broken immigration system and sow chaos for asylum seekers and immigrants.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), said: “Democrats are for rational solutions to secure our border, but we aren’t going to compromise on our basic principles by agreeing to hardline Republican demands like blocking all asylum seekers. What we need instead is to provide additional funding for border security and support increased funding for immigration judges to quickly process cases. I’m glad to join ACLU, SEIU, Human Rights First and my House colleagues at this important rally.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), said: “In this critical moment, it’s imperative that we not only advance policies that affirm immigrants’ rights as the human rights that they are, but also push back against any harmful proposals that deny migrant families the compassion, dignity, and fairness they deserve. I was proud to join such a broad and diverse coalition to reject the harmful policies being negotiated in the Senate and make it plain: that immigrants are people, asylum is a human right, migrants are not bargaining chips, and any policy that undermines these truths should be a non-starter. I’m grateful to everyone who traveled from across the country to be here today and I am proud to be their partner in this important work.”
Mary Kay Henry, SEIU International President, said: “Even though they are cruel – which is the point for some – these proposals would not reduce border arrivals in the long term. Rather, they would make things much, much worse at the border. I see no evidence that Senate Republicans have been bargaining in good faith. Instead, they seem eager to use immigrants as pawns to score short-term political points. We urge Democrats not to capitulate and instead stick to real solutions for a humane and orderly immigration system. That includes providing the necessary federal resources to cities that have been taking in the greatest number of recent arrivals.”
Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez, mother and asylum seeker from El Salvador, said: “Estuve en detención de ICE por más de seis largos años. Seis años en los que me negaron mi humanidad, tratándome menos que a un animal… En mi detención, me sentí sin voz, invisible. Pero hoy, estoy hablando para las personas que no pudieron estar aquí, son detenidas o deportadas. Y me uno a cientos de personas para elevar nuestras voces en defensa de los derechos de los inmigrantes.”
Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition, said: “The GOP continues to hold the country hostage to its extremist, anti-immigrant agenda. Throughout history, our country has been a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution, violence, war, and human rights violations around the world. But right now, the Senate is considering proposals that would permanently gut our asylum system, terrorize our immigrant neighbors and families, and in turn, scare people from seeking critical protection. Turning our backs on those seeking refuge at the southern border today is a betrayal of the ideals that represent the best of our country. The White House and Senate cannot and must not capitulate to the demands of those not interested in providing real, humane solutions to the challenges this nation faces. While some elected officials take photo ops on the border, everyday workers brace for the impact of a government shutdown. We urge Majority Leader Schumer to reject these cruel proposals in favor of advancing safer and more humane policies that support the rights of asylum seekers and established immigrant communities, promoting effective solutions that uphold our country’s values.”
Marisa Limón Garza, Executive Director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and New Mexico, said: “Let's be clear: immigration enforcement through deterrence doesn't work. It hasn't for the last 30 years and won't ever. Senate Republicans, like Sen. James Lankford’s obsession with "secure the border or else" is not about rational policy but pandering to their base to score cheap political points. Proposals that undermine law, order, and compassion, like mass expulsions and denying asylum hearings to mothers and fathers, will only inflict more suffering and confusion. Borderland communities like El Paso will be left to bear this burden. We urge the Biden administration and members of Congress to prioritize humanity over politics once and for all and reject anti-immigrant proposals that seek to curtail access to asylum and harm immigrant communities. Our morals, values, and laws should not be tossed aside.”
Nadiia Veselova, United for Ukraine sponsor, said: “People deserve to be in a country where children do not cry from fear, pain, and death nearby. The opportunity to work here is especially important for Ukrainians, and I am personally grateful that the United States accepts Ukrainians in this terrible time and provides support, giving [them] a work permit, social security, health insurance. Please do not close the U4U program and give people the opportunity to save their children's lives. I urge Congress to maintain its ongoing support for Ukraine, ensuring that it can defend itself against Russia while also securing humanitarian assistance for Ukrainians already living here in the United States."
Andres García, asylum recipient, said: “Vine a EEUU buscando refugio y protección para mi integridad física y mental. Gracias a las leyes de asilo encontré esa protección que buscaba. Gracias a la ley de asilo he podido superarme, estudiar y cambiar mi vida. Es por eso que estoy aquí el día de hoy exigiendo que no nos quiten las leyes de asilo a nuestra comunidad inmigrante. Así que pido por favor que mantengamos estas leyes que ayudan a gran parte de personas de todas partes del mundo.”
Guerline Jozef, Executive Director at the Haitian Bridge Alliance said: “Legislation that aims to create unlawful barriers to asylum and restrict the president’s authority on humanitarian parole pose a risk to the very foundations of our immigration system, which has long been a symbol of hope and opportunity for countless individuals seeking refuge and a better life in the United States. We ask President Biden to maintain his campaign promise that he would restore the soul of America and reject the proposals. It is imperative that we stand united against any racist, draconian, and inhumane measures that compromise the values of compassion, justice, and humanity that form the bedrock of our nation.”
Kica Matos, President of the National Immigration Law Center, said: “These extreme proposals would do nothing to improve our immigration system, but they would almost certainly result in more children detained, more families separated, and more people sent back to face persecution and even death. Immigrants are not bargaining chips – they are neighbors, coworkers, family members and friends who help build this country and contribute to the strength of its future. Our champions in Congress must hold the line and to fight with, and for us.”
Juanita Cabrera Lopez (Maya Mam), Executive Director, International Mayan League, said: “As we stand here today, backdoor funding negotiations are compromising our peoples’ human rights in exchange for foreign aid - military aid that would create not only a generation of orphans as noted in recent headlines in the context with Palestine, but it would accelerate multiple generations of future refugees. As former political refugees and asylum seekers, many who fled state sponsored genocide in Guatemala; we will never forget the U.S. government’s complicity in the genocide of Maya peoples in Iximulew (Guatemala) nor the State of Israel’s role in the selling of weapons and military training leading to war crimes during the internal armed conflict.”
Rabbi Marisa Elana James, Director of Social Justice Programming at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and Member of the HIAS Clergy Council, said: “This country has everything it needs to welcome asylum seekers with generosity instead of causing more trauma. The path to seeking asylum in this country is already complex and scary. Instead of totally gutting our system and terrorizing those fleeing violence, we need our leaders to recognize the humanity of those seeking safety here, to fully support and strengthen those who are yearning to breathe free.”