Popular Spanish-language DJ Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo, in private meetings with several congressmen today, hand delivered more than a million letters today signed in support of immigration reform.
Thursday, joined by Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Sotelo pleaded with Congress to swiftly pass the immigration reform bill that hangs over it.
"Here I am with more than 1 million letters from legal residents and U.S. citizens that represent millions of voices. They are voices of men, women and children who are asking you to look deep into your hearts to bring those millions out of the shadows and establish a legal, workable immigration system," Sotelo said in a Thursday press conference.
Sotelo on Immigration Circuit
Sotelo's voice is familiar not only on the airwaves but also on the immigration circuit. Rated by the Los Angeles Times as one of Southern California's 100 most-powerful people, the 37-year-old Sotelo is largely credited for the massive turnout during the 2006 pro-immigration rallies.
Now a legal resident of the United States, Sotelo took a personal interest in the rallies and in the immigration bill pending before Congress, because he himself arrived on U.S. soil in 1986 as an illegal immigrant.
Sotelo gathered the letters on a cross-country caravan trip to Washington with hundreds of people in tow behind him. He delivered them today after attending the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast with President Bush to lobby for "just and humane" immigration reform.
A Shift in Tactics
Sotelo's method of arrival, the cross-country caravan, demonstrates a shift in tactics for immigration advocates. Sotelo and others have moved away from the large protests that defined them early on in the movement, choosing lobbying and public relations campaigns that demonstrate the personal, more human side of immigration reform.
The caravan left last Sunday from Los Angeles and made stops in Albuquerque, N.M., Dallas, Chicago, arriving on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Caravan participants arrived travel-worn but hopeful. Kesia Miranda, who started the journey in Albuquerque, said her family lived off fast food and had barely rested.
"We didn't sleep until Chicago," Miranda said.
Miranda's father shut his construction business down for two weeks to make the trip and brought along one of his employees. Another member of the caravan, Natalie Orrozco, a Mexican immigrant from Moreno Valley, Calif., used water bottles to bathe in her RV. Still others made the entire trip from Los Angeles on motorcycles.
"It was hard. The trip was long, but I came here to be heard," Orrozco said.
"We want to show that immigration reform is not theoretical," Sotelo said to reporters.
Putting a Face on the Movement
In his speech, Sotelo painted a picture of undocumented immigrants meant to evoke sympathy. He said time and time again that he was only a "messenger' of a diverse group of people deserving of citizenship.
"I stand here on behalf of those who walk among you every day, those who wash your dishes and your cars … who clean your house and take care of your children. Those who marched peacefully last year and the Hispanic soldiers who serve our country in Iraq as we speak," Sotelo said.
Sotelo is not the only one to put a human face on the immigration bill likely to stir Congress next week. Monday, another popular Hispanic DJ arrives in Washington with a hundred immigrants who are traveling cross country by train, making stops to share their personal stories.
Renan "El Cucuy" Almendarez Coello, a nationally syndicated Spanish-language radio DJ, kicked off the 10-day "Dreams of America Tour" Wednesday. The tour, organized by the Catholic Church, unions and community groups, culminates with a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. The one hundred immigrants selected to participate in the tour, the "Dreamers," will share their stories with members of Congress Monday.
The shift in tactics comes at a time when comprehensive immigration reform may be on the brink of passage, possibly going up for debate as early as Thursday.
As senators debate the details of the bill, caravaner Roberto Ramirez hopes they remember the faces behind the numbers they debate.
Pointing to the nicely manicured Capitol lawn, Ramirez asked, "Who cuts this grass? Who works at the McDonalds? We work hard, we have families and we just want to live here legally," he said.