Thousands Rally for Immigrant Rights in DC

The rally was meant to send a clear message to the incoming president.

ByABC News
January 14, 2017, 9:52 PM

— -- Thousands of immigrants and progressive allies packed the pews of the historic Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., Saturday morning with a clear message for President-elect Donald Trump: "We are here to stay."

Attendees traveled from throughout the Northeast, many arriving by bus, and filled the chapel with cheers and chants of "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido" ("The people united will never be defeated") and "No justice, no peace." The lineup of speakers, which included elected officials, undocumented students, nonprofit leaders and clergy members, spoke in defiance to the positions proposed by the president-elect .

Martin Batalla was one of those speakers. He is a nursing student from New York and a recipient of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) -- an Obama administration policy that protects him from deportation.

"DACA changed my life, and it changed lots of people like me. I was able to get a work permit, I was able to finish school, graduate, and I was able to get out of the shadows," he told ABC News.

Batalla said he has been in this country since he was 2 years old, when his family migrated from Mexico. He said he's scared for what could come if DACA is repealed.

"We don't know what's going to happen with President Trump, everybody that's in DACA," he said. "We worked for it. If they take it away, we don't know honestly."

Jonathan Jimenez, a third-year student at Queens College, migrated with his family from Quito, Ecuador, when he was four. He told ABC News that he was not scared of what could come.

"I feel that this is what we need to do to show the Trump administration that we are unafraid and we're willing to fight for our communities," he said. "I myself am also a fighter, I've done a whole bunch of different martial arts over the years ... this is, to me, a way of fighting."

To qualify for DACA, applicants had to prove they were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, came to the United States before age 16, lived here for at least five years continuously, attend or graduated from high school or college and have no criminal convictions. Roughly 750,000 people were issued temporary protected status and, separately, work authorization.

Because DACA was put in place through executive action and is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, the policy could be immediately ended by the next secretary of the department.

Trump said on the campaign trail that he plans to reverse Obama's executive actions and orders, which would include DACA.

If the Trump administration decides to end DACA, it would be at the discretion of DHS secretary to determine priorities and whether protected status is removed together with work permits.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, spoke passionately in both English and Spanish, promising the crowd that he would fight for people like them, like Batalla and Jimenez.

"I'm not going to rest until every mother and every dad has the same guarantee that I have, when I leave here I will return to my wife and to my children," he said. "I will not rest until everyone that wakes up in the morning to go work hard, sweat and toil, guarantee that they return to their husbands, wives, and families."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, also voiced his commitment to protecting immigrant and civil rights.

"We are not going to allow Donald Trump to bury the Statue of Liberty," Van Hollen said. "We're going to reaffirm that torch of Lady Liberty and say that we are a nation for all peoples regardless of religion, regardless of background, regardless of who you love. We are here for everybody."

ABC News' Serena Marshall contributed to this report.

Related Topics