Detroit rally for undocumented immigrant rights draws 500

Ofelia Martinez, a Detroit march and rally organizer |Ken Coleman

Five hundred people marched on Wednesday along West Vernor Highway in Southwest Detroit to demand driver’s licenses for all — including undocumented immigrants.

Protests also were held in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

Rally for undocumented immigrants in Detroit | Ken Coleman

Movimiento Cosecha, which sponsored the event, is a national movement fighting “for permanent protection, dignity and respect for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.” It is one of several organizations across the state demanding that undocumented immigrants be given access to driver licenses.

“For too long, undocumented immigrants in Michigan have driven with the fear that we may be arrested, detaine and even permanently separated from our families and deported for simply driving without a license to work, to pick up their kids from school, or to the hospital,” said Gema Lowe of Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids.

The day of action was coordination with May 1 “Driving Without Fear” immigrant marches planned in several cities across the nation including New Jersey, Indiana, Georgia and Wisconsin.

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Currently, 12 states grant licenses to undocumented immigrants, with several others currently considering legislation allowing state residents to apply for driver licenses, regardless of immigration status.

Michigan, which allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses until 2008, has considered similar legislation in previous years. No bill has been introduced yet in the current legislative session, according to organizers.

“Despite last November’s ‘blue wave’ and a new Democratic governor in Michigan, we are four months into the current legislative session and a new ‘Licenses for All’ bill still has not yet been introduced,” said Nelly Fuentes of Movimiento Cosecha Kalamazoo.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

“The state of Michigan depends on immigrants who drive to work in the fields, in restaurants, in factories,” Fuentes continued. “On May 1, by not going to work, not opening our businesses, not going to school, and not shopping, we will show our power in the streets and demand licenses for all!”

Ofelia Martinez is a Detroit march and rally organizer.

“Our community is in need,” she said. “Many need to work and go to school, take care of their families and it’s difficult to do that without your [driver] license.”

In a show of solidarity, residents were asked not to go to work, open their businesses, attend school or shop. The two-mile march and rally attracted a variety of human rights organizations and activists, including the Michigan Organizing to Rebuild the Economy (also known is D-15), which is fighting for restaurant workers and others to secure an hourly wage of at least $15.

The Rev. Marc Gawronski, pastor of St. Gabriel Church, participated in the march and encouraged marchers to continue the fight.

The Rev. Marc Gawronski, pastor of St. Gabriel Church, a neighborhood congregation, participated and encouraged marchers to continue the fight | Ken Coleman

“How many people here believe that it’s God’s will that our families are no longer separated?” he asked, prompting a roar of cheers. “By marching, we are expressing our faith.”

Jean-Luc Duval, who was born in Haiti and lives in Detroit, made it a priority to attend the march and rally.

“I’m an immigrant, myself,” he said, “and I believe that everyone in this country should have a right to a driver’s license.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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