Story by Laurel Morales, Fronteras Desk
Fifty years ago 250,000 people gathered in Washington to rally for jobs and freedom. It was Aug. 28, 1963 that Martin Luther King Jr. went off script and improvised one of the most quoted and memorable speeches in United States history — the “I Have A Dream” speech.
To commemorate the famous march and speech thousands of people have gathered this week at the National Mall — many of them immigration rights activists seizing the opportunity to bring attention to immigration reform.
“At the core, we are talking about the same thing,” Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration policy for the National Council of La Raza told NBC News. “This is a conversation about the value of a person. It was the core of the conversation then, and it is the core of the conversation now."
It was the decades-old civil rights movement that eventually led to America’s current immigration reality. The federal government radically altered immigration policy in 1965 when it passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, opening America's doors to the world. The population exploded, a demographic shift that historians say happened in part because of a desire for change and equality created by the civil rights movement.
On this day many are contemplating where the civil rights movement is now. And immigration advocates say they’re still fighting for equality.
Last month nine activists tried to cross the border from Mexico into the United States without papers. They were arrested and released two weeks later and now they seek asylum. Six of the nine were born in Mexico and brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
They call themselves DREAMers. The movement has focused on their academic achievement but more recently it has taken up civil disobedience tactics.
But some say now is not the time to chain yourself to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building. Now is the time to take a cue from Martin Luther King and focus more on a moral future.
“What Dr. King did in 1963 was envision a moral future and a moral gap between the reality in America at the time and the moral future he envisioned,” Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez told reporters recently.
As immigration rights activists rally in Washington this week, immigration reform legislation that was passed by the Senate remains stuck in the House. And many suspect if it passes, it will focus more on border security and less on a path to citizenship.