WALLA WALLA - Close to 400 people gathered at Jefferson Park on Saturday morning, then marched down Ninth Avenue, up Main Street and finally down Palouse Street, to fight for immigration reform and to gain the support of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
"The purpose of today's march was to target Rep. McMorris, to ask her to take leadership of immigration reform," OneAmerican march coordinator Ariel Ruiz said.
The marchers, mostly Hispanics and long-time documented or native residents of the United States and Walla Walla, started marching around 11 a.m., chanting and carrying signs for immigration reform and against deportation.
Among those protesting was Maria Ramos, a 27-year-old mother of two whose husband was deported in 2008.
"I go home (from work) and I find my daughter crying because she misses her dad," Ramos said, as she prepared for the march.
She explained how in September of 2008, she and her daughters traveled to Juarez, Mexico, to try to obtain documents that would allow her husband to live and work in the United States, only to learn that he would not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. until 2016.
"The question I have is why? He doesn't have any criminal record," she said.
Enrique Pina was also there to fight deportation. For him, immigrations laws took away his mother 10 years ago and left him living with relatives at age 15.
"I was afraid. I was anxious ... you feel very alone without your parents," Pina said, as he stood in the gathering for 400 people at the end of the march.
The last time a similar march occurred in Walla Walla was in 2006, and Ruiz said he was part of that rally as a student from Walla Walla High School.
According to Ruiz, national statistics point out there are at least 5 million American children who have at least one undocumented parent.
"It is different to be in school and wonder are my parents going to be there when I come back," he said.
Many of the people who took part in this march - as well as numerous other immigration reform marches that took place Saturday across the United States - said they were marching to protest Arizona's new state law that makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in that state, punishable by up to six months in prison and a $2,500 fine.
"My brother lives in Arizona. He was telling me that a lot of the people were leaving their homes and moving to other states," Eva Santos said.
Though she has been a documented resident of Walla Walla for more than two decades, the certified nursing assistant noted she has many family members and friends who could be deported.
"We have family that don't have any papers. And we want them to have the right to have a job because they have family and kids who were born here," she said.
Shortly before noon, the 400 marchers turned down Main Street and headed downtown, where hundreds of tourists were busy buying wine for Spring Release weekend.
As the group neared Second Avenue, the echoes of their chants seemed to put a halt to the wine buying and other tourism activities. People stopped and watched, as the marchers shouted "Si se puede," which loosely translates to "We can do it."
About 10 minutes later the throng of people marching down the Main Street sidewalk with a police escort were through the heart of Walla Walla. And the shoppers went back to buying wine.
"Our main focus is to stop families from being separated," Ruiz said. But he also noted that without new legislation, current immigration law won't change.
"We can't argue about immigration reform if we don't have something. So the second goal was once it (new legislation) gets to the House of Representatives, we want McMorris to vote yes, and I am not sure that we have accomplished this yet. But that doesn't mean we are going to stop trying," he said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.