January 14, 2017 at 4:40 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Immigrant advocates rally against Trump

We Are Here To Stay, Luis Gutierrez, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) speaks at the ‘We Are Here To Stay’ immigrant rights rally at Metropolitan AME Church on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Javier Cifuentes, an intern at the Human Rights Campaign who is from Guatemala, was a child when he arrived in the U.S. with his mother and brother in 2002.

He told the thousands of people who attended the pro-immigrant “We Are Here to Stay” rally at the Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest D.C. on Saturday that his mother worked as a housekeeper after she arrived in this country, even though she had graduated from a university in Guatemala. Cifuentes, who is now a U.S. citizen, said he only understood why she brought him and his brother to the U.S. when he came out to her in 2002.

“At an early age my mother realized that I was queer,” he said as the crowd that was gathered a few blocks north of the White House began to applaud. “Fearing for my safety and knowing that the opportunities that I would have here would be less limited by my identity than they would be at home, my mother gave up her own dreams so I could live an authentic live.”

Cifuentes is among those who spoke at the rally that CASA de Maryland, United We Dream and other groups organized. It is one of dozens of pro-immigrant events that took place around the country ahead of President-elect Trump’s inauguration.

“We are not going to allow Donald Trump or anybody else turn back the clock on social justice in the United States of America,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) as he spoke at the Metropolitan AME Church. “We are going to continue to move forward to build a more perfect union in this country.”

Van Hollen pointed to a new Human Rights Watch report that notes Trump’s election “capped a campaign marked by misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric” and the president-elect’s “embrace of policies that would cause tremendous harm to vulnerable communities contravene the United States’ core human rights obligations or both.” Van Hollen also said “we are not going to allow Donald Trump to bury the Statue of Liberty.”

“We are a nation of all peoples, regardless of religion, regardless of background, regardless of who you love,” said Van Hollen.

Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, who announced earlier this week that he would boycott Trump’s inauguration, told the crowd in Spanish the president-elect’s comments towards women are “not normal” and “not acceptable.” The Illinois Democrat who is of Puerto Rican descent cited his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and his support of immigrants, which includes the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Obama signed in 2012.

Trump wrote on his campaign website that “anyone who enters the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation.” He has also spoken in support of banning Muslims from entering the country.

Trump in 2015 described Mexicans as “rapists” when he announced his campaign. He has also called for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border to stop undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

“We are here because the immigrants in this country sacrificed everything,” said Gutiérrez, speaking at the rally in Spanish.

Martin Batalla Vidal, an undocumented immigrant with Make the Road New York who identifies as “queer,” said the incoming administration “should preserve DACA.”

“It works and I’m living proof of it,” he said.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are among those who also spoke at rally.

Attendees held signs and posters that read, “We will resist Trump’s hate,” among other things. A young boy who was attending the rally with his mother was wearing a hoodie that said, “Don’t deport my mom.”

The Metropolitan AME Church can accommodate 3,000 people. Rally organizers said more than 300 people were marching outside during the event because it had reached capacity.

“Nobody should live in fear of deportation,” said United We Dream Executive Director Cristina Jiménez. “Nobody should live in fear or in the shadows because of our immigration status and nobody should live in the closet with fear.”

Cifuentes told the Washington Blade after the rally that his mother is “terrified” about the incoming administration. Bryan Ellicott, a transgender rights advocate from Staten Island, N.Y., who traveled to D.C. with Atlas: DIY, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants, said it was important for him to show his solidarity.

“As a member of the LGBT — specifically bi and trans community from Staten Island — it’s extremely important to me to show support to the immigrant/undocumented community,” Ellicott told the Blade.

Thousands march to MLK Memorial

The “We Are Here to Stay” rally at Metropolitan AME Church coincided with the “We Shall Not Be Moved” march from the Washington Monument to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network organized.

Media reports indicate thousands of people participated in the march. Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, director of faith partnerships and mobilization at HRC, is among those who spoke.

“With fierce urgency and courageous solidarity we must forge new partnerships and coalitions to protect civil freedoms and equal protection under the law for everyone — particularly, for those whose voices are seldom heard in the halls of power,” said Flournoy.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis on Friday told Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he does not consider Trump a “legitimate president” because of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election.

Trump on Saturday criticized the civil rights icon in a series of tweets.

HRC President Chad Griffin is among the advocates and lawmakers who quickly rebuked Trump.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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