“Reform now,” the crowd chanted, first in English and then in Spanish.
“Yes we can,” they continued, growing louder as horns honked and people clapped and cheered.
A crowd of about 400 people gathered Sunday on Berry Street, south of the Allen County Courthouse, chanting in support of changing immigration laws and calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to schedule a vote on the issue before the end of the legislative session.
Immigrants and supporters held signs reading “Family Unity” and “Immigration Reform” as they talked about revamping employment-related visas, creating what they see as rational border security measures and a path to legalization and earned citizenship for undocumented workers.
The approximately three-hour vigil led by the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana included talks by activists from community groups such as the Center for Nonviolence and churches including Saint Patrick’s Parish.
Among the speakers was Tena Dellaca-Hedrick, social justice program coordinator for the Victory Noll Center.
Dellaca-Hedrick urged the crowd to speak out against what she called the myths of immigrants.
She said about 75 percent of immigrants who cross the border do so legally.
“Twenty-five percent, yes, are illegal, but the dignity of human beings seeking and moving to … the promised land as we call it, to find a better life for them and their families is a dignity and a right for every person,” Dellaca-Hedrick said.
Jesus Almanza, who has lived in Fort Wayne since 1986, said he knows many of the families who support the idea of immigration reform and who have been affected by the current legislation.
“I feel sorry for these people who go to bed in fear that they will be separated,” Almanza said. “We all do. We all know those families.”
Almanza said he hoped the word of the messages being shared Sunday would reach Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and encourage him to vote in favor of the issue.
“It happened to the Italians, no one liked them. It happened to the Germans, nobody liked them. It’s our turn to be hated,” Almanza said. “It’s our turn to be hated. But we’re not leaving. We are not going away.”