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USF students hope massive march in nations capital brings reform to immigration laws

The heat of the afternoon sun beat down on more than 200,000 protesters as they crowded the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

They marched and marched and held signs that read, “Illegal status is the new segregation” and “Capital can cross borders. So can we.”

Nearly 60 USF students joined the crowd in a three-mile walk – which began at the Washington Monument and ended in front of RFK Stadium – at the “March for America: Change takes Courage” on Sunday.

The march aimed to shed light on immigration reform and the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a piece of legislation that has circulated congressional chambers for the past five years.

Franz Villate, a USF graduate student studying education, walked along the crowded street and said he became involved with the protest because he felt undocumented immigrant workers are not viewed by their worth.

“They’re still (people). They’re still breathing, they still have dreams – they still have hopes,” said Villate, a group leader for Democracia U.S.A, which is an organization that promotes Latino involvement in the American democratic process, according to its Web site. “I believe people are inherently good, so we’re supposed to change all that and almost recognize their humanity by granting them a document that says they’re alive and they live in the United States.”

Ernesto Sendic Vargas, the Tampa organizer for Democracia U.S.A., looked to Joseph Anastasio, Student Government (SG) deputy supervisor of elections, and Emanuel Lucas, a senior majoring in environmental science, to help gather USF students to march.

Lucas, a co-captain for USF’s group at the march, said he was hesitant to participate in the event when he heard about it.

“I didn’t want to go by myself because I was honestly scared to go without some kind of group,” he said.

It was only after Anastasio agreed to join that Lucas began advertising through Latin American student organizations to get a group together for the trip, he said.

USF alumna Elena Petrescu, a volunteer for Democracia U.S.A., served as Lucas’ co-captain and disagrees with the immigration process in the U.S.

She pointed to how when a foreigner is granted U.S. citizenship, it does not extend to his or her other family members, though they can petition for it.

“Say a mother applies for immigration through the U.S. rather than having an application for herself, her husband, her daughter and her son, one (application) satisfies all for the needed family, and if the application is approved, they can come together,” she said of how she would change legislation.

SG president-elect Cesar Hernandez, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, attended the rally. Hernandez, a first-generation born in the U.S., said it was important to be part of the movement.

“I see the migrant farm workers and the people that work in the factories, (and) I’m only one generation away from that,” he said. “I think for me to forget my roots – that would be selfish of me. At one point, that was my family.”

Although the majority of the groups at the rally represented various Latin American countries, they were not alone. Members from the Haitian, Japanese, Irish and African immigrant communities, as well as from the LGBT community, waved flags for their group or nation.

Before the march, politicians and speakers from ethnic populations, including representatives from religious communities and Latin American singers, rallied attendees at the National Mall.

A pre-recorded video of President Barack Obama was shown as a way to acknowledge his awareness of the call for immigration reform. Hernandez said the only element the rally lacked was a leader.

“You can mobilize so many people, but there’s no significance behind it,” he said. “There was a salsa singer, some local politicians, a pastor, but there was no one person – man or woman – to say, ‘OK, this is what we are here for, this is what we have to do, and this is how we are going to do it.’ We have no common-day leader. Think about it.”

If the DREAM Act passes in Congress, undocumented high school students will be allowed to register for college and obtain in-state tuition, Petrescu said.

Javier Gonzalez, a junior majoring in psychology and Spanish, said this was his first national march.

“Being at the march, many of us saw that Hispanics were the majority, but not everyone was a Hispanic,” he said. “Immigration is not just for Spanish, it has other races as well. I definitely want to end the stereotyping.”

Gonzalez said the DREAM Act is needed for undocumented students to obtain higher education.

“We want the DREAM Act to be passed in order to give the opportunity to all undocumented students … to progress further in school,” he said. “Right now, some have the opportunities to go through high school, but once they reach high school, that’s it.”