by Félix Pérez
They hailed from all walks of life, from coast to coast, from towns and cities of all different sizes. They arrived by car, bus, train, plane and even by bicycle — some traveled through the night. And while their paths and stories differ, they all voiced one single message yesterday: the time is now for Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform for students, their families and millions of aspiring Americans.
The historic rally — attended by more than 100,000 educators, students, families, concerned citizens, clergy of every faith, and local, state and federal elected officials — came as bipartisan groups in the U.S. House and Senate put the finishing touches on their versions of immigration bills.
Kari Johnson, an elementary school teacher from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, was one of the educators who traveled to Washington to stand in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol on a 90-degree afternoon and show her solidarity for students. She said:
It is important for educators to take a stand for commonsense immigration reform . . . Sometimes educators are the only voice for these children, and we need to speak loud and clear.
Johnson, whose story was selected by EdVotes from among stories submitted by educators all across America, wrote of a student of hers who is “motivated, intelligent, hard working, and dedicated. These words indicate she has a bright future. Instead, our nation describes my student as illegal. People don’t realize the struggles she experienced to get here or the fear she feels of being discovered. Others don’t see how successful she is or how her dream is to attend college in the United States.
“She was only ten [when she arrived] and terrified. She did not speak a word of English nor did she know anyone. Her parents were nervous to send her to a strange school. Despite all odds, my student became proficient in English within two years and participates in advanced courses and the gifted and talented program as an eighth grader. It wasn’t her choice to come here. She was just a child; not a criminal. She is a hard-working student who respects her teachers and loves to learn.”
Utah elementary school teacher and National Education Vice President Lily Eskelsen roused rally-goers when she said, “I am the daughter of an immigrant. I am a teacher. I am here because of all those things. I represent over 3 million educators – teachers and support staff in our schools who demand we fix our broken system.”
DREAMer students were out in full force. Tania Hernandez Castillo of Texas, who recently earned a degree in elementary education, said, “As a future educator and aspiring American, my dream is to inspire my students, to give them the confidence to be whatever they choose to be.”
Maryland middle school teacher Eric Luedtke, who, as a state legislator, was instrumental in the passage of that state’s DREAM act, raced from his school to attend the rally. One of the featured speakers at the rally, Luedtke said, “Teachers have a responsibility to stand up for every single one of their kids. We need to fix the immigration system in this country because it is a crime against our children.” The crowd chanted in unison as Luedtke declared repeatedly, “The time is now!”