Several hundred people rallied Saturday for immigration reform outside U.S. Rep. John Boehner’s Springfield office, calling on the House Speaker to follow the Senate and forge a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.
Organizers, which included a coalition of faith and labor groups, had hoped to lead 500 people in a short, boisterous march from the Clark State Performing Arts Center parking lot to City Hall, where the West Chester Republican has an office.
Participants were bused in from as far away as Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky, where they joined with local Hispanics, African immigrants from Columbus and others.
“This picture is America today, right in Speaker Boehner’s district,” said the Rev. Troy Jackson, director of the clergy group Ohio Prophetic Voices, which largely organized the two-hour rally.
The U.S. Senate in June passed a bipartisan bill that included a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, in addition to provisions to secure the borders. However, Boehner has said immigration reform isn’t a top priority.
“Every day you delay, you allow Steve King to lead the Republican party,” Jackson announced, referring to the Republican congressman from Iowa who recently equated many illegal immigrants to drug smugglers.
While Boehner has condemned King, his spokeswoman didn’t return an email Saturday seeking comment about the rally.
Speaking through a translator, Obed Perez, a 27-year-old who came to Springfield from the Mexican state of Chiapas, gave a short answer when asked Saturday why he came to the United States.
“He came here to find a better life,” his translator said.
Santiago Becerra Silva, a 37-year-old Springfield resident, said he has remained in the U.S. despite an expired visa in order to provide for his wife and six children still in Mexico.
“Mexico’s really bad. No work. And I have a big family,” Silva said.
He worries about his family’s safety in his cartel-plagued homeland, and is scared of being deported.
“I pray to Jesus, bring my family here,” he said.
Shahrzad P. Allen, an immigration attorney from Dayton, framed the argument for immigration reform as a way to reduce the nation’s deficit.
Allen said that allowing 11 million illegal immigrants to “come out of the shadows” would create citizens who pay taxes and learn English “just like the rest of us.”
Jose Sanchez, a pastor originally from Nicaragua who leads the Hispanic congregation that meets at Springfield’s Southgate Baptist Church, said it’s “time to stop the division.”
“We are here for work, not for anything else,” Sanchez said. “We’re here to support our families.”
The rally brought together Protestant Christians, Catholics and Muslims. Father Ed Gearhart, of St. Teresa Catholic Church in Springfield, read a statement from Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr that called the nation’s current immigration system broken.
“We must be a nation of laws,” Gearhart read, “but laws that make sense and laws that do not make for undue suffering.”
Jeff Cook, a former professor of Bible and urban ministry at Cedarville University, announced he had two reasons for attending the rally.
“I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history,” he told the crowd. “More than that, as a pastor, I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the gospel.”