Thousands gather on ‘closed’ National Mall for immigration reform rally

By Gabriella Morrongiello

(Photo: Getty Images)

WASHINGTON-- Despite restricting veterans’ access to war memorials and limiting sightseeing and museum-going for tourists visiting the Nation’s capital, the government shutdown and subsequent closure of National Parks, open-air monuments and memorials did not prevent thousands of immigrants – both legal and illegal – from marching on the National Mall Tuesday to support comprehensive immigration reform.

The March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect, dubbed the “Camino Americano” or American Walk, included participants from groups like the Service Employees International Union, United Farmworkers and CASA de Maryland. Thousands turned out and listened as speakers like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and vibrant immigration reform advocate Rep. Luis Guiterrez called for a path toward citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Furthermore, leading immigrants’ rights activists - joined by eight Democratic lawmakers – were arrested by Capitol Police in an act of civil disobedience with onlookers chanting “let them go” and the popular rallying cry “Sí, se Puede,”-- Yes, we can.

Though the march drew a large crowd and served to reenergize immigration reform advocates, critics questioned its clearance in the first place granted that veterans and Americans have been turned away from National Parks and memorials closed during the shutdown.

“It was troubling, the ease with which illegal immigrants can rally on a supposedly closed facility. That suggests a kind of warped priority on behalf of the administration,” said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies-- an organization dedicated to studying the fiscal consequences of immigration.  

On its face, Camarota believes that allowing the rally to occur after veterans were turned away from the WWII memorial just last week suggests “the administration is more accommodating to people who aren’t supposed to be in the country than they are to our veterans.”

Susana Flores, a spokeswoman for the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Action who organized the march, refuted such claims.

“They [National Parks Services] allowed us to have it because it is part of the First Amendment of the constitution,” Flores told the Daily Caller.

Leslie Arias, a college student from New York who came to the march with a student group called the John Jay DREAMers, believed that “veterans should have the right to come in and see the monuments and everything because they also fought for the country,” noting, however, that the she doesn’t feel the march taking place was unfair.

“I mean I wouldn’t say it’s unfair because I feel this is a different cause, a completely different cause and it’s a different matter—I think it’s a larger matter,” said Arias. “Not to say that veterans like don’t matter, but it’s like you guys are allowed, you guys have your rights, you guys are citizens, you guys are veterans in the country. These are people that are fighting for something.”

However, other organizations fighting for various causes that also planned to hold events on the Mall weren’t as fortunate and have had to cancel or make alternative arrangements for their events. The Kicking for Kids Who Can’t Kick-a-thon sponsored by the Amputee Coalition was scheduled for Oct. 19 on the Mall, but was cancelled by organizers in light of the shutdown. Additionally, organizers of the Children’s National Medical Center’s 5k Race for Every Child had to move Saturday’s activities off of Freedom Plaza and onto Pennsylvania Ave., though the actual 5k route remained unchanged.