A new civil rights movement is upon us.
Like the protesters of the 1960s, those in favor of immigrant rights have rediscovered the power of peaceful protest.
The hundreds of thousands of people who marched at these rallies -- in such cities as Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. -- sent an unmistakable message. They will not allow others to scapegoat them or turn them into felons. They will not allow employers to profit off their cheap labor while getting nothing in return but a low wage and a ticket out of the country.
What galvanized demonstrators was a cruel House bill passed in December that would make undocumented immigrants -- as well as religious and other aid groups offering them humanitarian assistance -- felons. The House bill would also authorize the building of a 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But on March 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a more reasoned approach, and voted to eliminate the felony provisions and added paths to future citizenship.
Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., said the turnouts in the hundreds of thousands helped drum up support for the amendments.
He and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., are proposing a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to become eligible for permanent residency after working in the United States for six years. Although this proposal still must be submitted to a full vote in the Senate, it would be a good first step toward reforming an outdated immigration policy.
Immigrants are not the problem. They are a crucial part of our economy and our social fabric. By offering those who are undocumented and working hard to contribute to our society an opportunity to come out of the shadows, we will only strengthen our country.
The demonstrations show that a large number of Americans appreciate the positive contributions of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. And they show that Latinos and their allies have political clout that legislators must reckon with.
As the largest minority in the United States, Latinos have, up until now, allowed a vocal anti-immigrant contingent to seize the debate on immigration. But just as the civil rights movement did decades before, the recent marches show policy-makers that those who have long been denied their rights will ultimately take action to secure them.
Bernardo Ruiz is a New York-based writer and documentary filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.