The Rapidian

Pilgrimage: Undocumented immigrants, allies walk, dance, chant from Grand Rapids to Lansing to demand driver's licenses for all

Immigrants from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Sturgis, Ionia, Lansing, Detroit, and Ann Arbor participated in a rally on the steps of the Capitol following the arrival of the “Licenses for All pilgrimage" on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.
50 Walkers Arrive from Grand Rapids to the Lansing State Capitol after 5 Days of Pilgrimage.

50 Walkers Arrive from Grand Rapids to the Lansing State Capitol after 5 Days of Pilgrimage. /Used with permission from Movimiento Cosecha

Idalia Tinoco speaks at the Licenses for All Rally while Sergio Cira-Reyes translates.

Idalia Tinoco speaks at the Licenses for All Rally while Sergio Cira-Reyes translates. /Used with permission from Movimiento Cosecha

The Michigan Map bears the words "Licensias Para Todos" and is surrounded by the walkers' shoes, representing their journey.

The Michigan Map bears the words "Licensias Para Todos" and is surrounded by the walkers' shoes, representing their journey. /Used with permission from Movimiento Cosecha

Sylvia, who wishes to keep her last name off the record, has implants in her hips. And yet from October 5-9, she walked over 65 miles from her home in Grand Rapids to the steps of the State Capitol in Lansing with others from Movimiento Cosecha to demand driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Not only did she walk, she danced, chanted, and sang through the rain and through the pain. "A driver's license is very important for me, and for my children," said Sylvia. "I need to be able to take my children to school without fear."

When Sylvia and the rest of the walkers arrived in Lansing on October 9, 2018 there were over two hundred immigrants, allies, community and faith leaders there to greet them, holding signs and banners. The arrival then turned into a rally at the steps of the State Capitol that demanded driver's licenses for all.

“Today, for the first time ever, immigrants across the entire state of Michigan are coming together to demand something we have needed for so long--the ability to drive without fear,” said Gema Lowe, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha GR and a participant in the pilgrimage. “For 10 years, our community has lived with the fear of being detained or deported just for driving to work or to pick our children up from school. Today, we are taking the first steps to change and showing the state of Michigan that we won’t live like this anymore.”

The “Licenses for All” rally began with a celebration of the walkers who arrived from Grand Rapids to conclude their 5-day pilgrimage. “This walk was incredibly physically challenging,” said Nelly Fuentes, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha Kzoo. “We walked through rain, slept on church floors, and depended on donations to have enough food to keep going. Yes, it was a big sacrifice, but I have lived in Michigan for almost 20 years and I’ve never done anything like this before. It was worth it because we are marking the beginning of something new for immigrants in Michigan. It means we are coming together to fight for ourselves and our families in a way that has never happened before.”

The program featured testimonies from other walkers as well as speakers from Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids, Movimiento Cosecha Kalamazoo, Movimiento Cosecha Sturgis, Action of Greater Lansing, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and Joy Like a River sanctuary church in Grand Rapids. The rally was also attended by a dozen members of the Bronson Park Freedom Encampment, a community of people experiencing homelessness in Kalamazoo fighting for housing rights, who participated in all 5 days of the walk, as well as Kalamazoo Commissioner Shannon Sykes-Nehring.

The Cosecha groups from around the state then each brought out a piece of a large decorated Michigan map to put together, as the groups are joining together to form this movement across the state. The walkers then surrounded the map with their shoes to represent their Pilgrimage across the state to fight for justice.

Undocumented immigrants in Michigan have not been able to obtain or renew licenses since 2007. When undocumented immigrants are stopped by police for any reason, they may be detained for driving without a license, transferred to ICE detention, or even deported and permanently separated from their families. Today’s rally and the pilgrimage are part of a statewide  “Licenses for All” campaign led by Cosecha Michigan, immigrants, allies, and other local organizations. The campaign specifically aims to activate immigrant communities throughout Michigan to fight for the right to drive without fear.

“In the 10 years since I have been unable to renew my licenses, politicians in Lansing have repeatedly submitted state bills to give us back licenses. But nothing ever happens with these bills. Walking for five days from Grand Rapids to Lansing with my dad and rallying in the streets with immigrants from all over the state is giving me new hope. Our community has never united like this to fight for licenses before, and this is just the beginning. By walking and protesting, we are inspiring our community and growing our movement every day. When immigrants from every corner of the state are ready to take action together, then we will have the power to win,” said Ana Isabel, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha GR and a participant in the pilgrimage.

Movimiento Cosecha is a national movement fighting for permanent protection, dignity and respect for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Cosecha Michigan is currently leading a campaign to mobilize the immigrant community to fight for driver’s licenses for all in Michigan. More information available at CosechaMichigan.com.

 

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