The Rapidian

Tired of looking fearfully in the rearview mirror, immigrants will march for Driver's Licenses for All on May 1

On May 1st, many in the immigrant community will be marching for Another Day Without Immigrants: El Grito Por Las Licensias, or The Roar for Licenses. The march will start at 12 noon at Garfield Park and cities across Michigan will be participating in the fight for Driver's Licenses for All.

A Day Without Immigrants: The Roar for Licenses

  • Wednesday, May 1st
  • Don't shop, don't go to work, don't go to school
  • March starts at 12 pm
  • March starts at Garfield Park
  • Water and snacks provided during the march
  • A meal and program will be provided at the end of the march
  • Learn more on Facebook
The El Grito poster for the Cosecha march on May 1st.

The El Grito poster for the Cosecha march on May 1st. /Movimiento Cosecha GR

“We all know the feeling,” say the immigrants who wish to remain anonymous. One, called "Maria" for this article, explains:  “You’re taking your children to school because they missed the bus. One of them is talking about how much they like their teacher this year - another is trying to finish their math homework in the car.  Suddenly you think you see flashing lights in the rearview mirror.

“Everything changes as you check behind you. Your heart beats hard and it’s difficult to breath.  You start to feel hot and like you might pass out. You think, ‘Please, not with my kids in the car.’  You try to think who could come get them. Then you look, and it was just a construction vehicle. But you’re not the same as you were a few moments ago.”

The problem is not that Maria and these others are wanted criminals or that they are a target of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).  The problem is that Maria’s driver’s license, like that of many immigrants, has been expired since 2012, and the State of Michigan will not issue them another one.  The State of Michigan used to issue driver’s licenses to qualified Michigan drivers who had documents from their country of origin, but stopped doing so in 2008.  

This is where Movimiento Cosecha GR comes in. Cosecha GR is part of a national non-violent movement fighting for dignity, respect, and permanent protection for all 11 million under-documented immigrants in the U.S. Among other demands, Cosecha GR has asked the Grand Rapids City Commission to release a statement in support of creating and passing a new state bill that would issue driver’s licenses to under-documented residents once again. They have also joined with groups across the state in Otro Dia Sin Inmigrantes: El Grito Por Las Licensias, or "Another Day Without Immigrants: The Roar for Licenses," for the third year of the Cosecha May 1st March.

Like many in the local immigrant community, Maria has lived in Kent County for almost two decades.  She has asked about getting a green card, but she doesn’t have family who can sponsor her. The U.S. government says that Maria and millions of others do not qualify for asylum because they come from Mexico or Central America. But like many, Maria says her town in Mexico has been devastated by poverty, especially after the 1994 NAFTA agreement made it impossible to grow and sell corn as her village had done for centuries.  

Gema Lowe, a volunteer organizer for Cosecha GR, explains more. "NAFTA stipulated that while U.S. corn could be subsidized by the government, Mexican corn [the country's most important crop at that time] could not be.  Cheap U.S. corn flooded the Mexican market. Then big box stores like Walmart were free to come in and run small businesses out of small towns, just like here in the U.S. Families lost their way of providing for themselves.  They were in danger of starving."

Like many others, Maria came to the U.S. on a temporary work visa to escape the poverty and to send money back to her family, including younger siblings.  When her visa expired, she tried to get it renewed, but couldn't. She stayed because she was still able to work - in fact, like many immigrant workers, she says it was clear her employers and clients in home health care loved her. Later she met her husband, and they started a family.

Maria’s family is active in their church, and both she and her husband work full-time as well as raising their children.  But Maria is tired of being afraid. On May 1st, she is joining Movimiento Cosecha GR to march for Driver’s Licenses for All.  The march will begin at 12 noon in Garfield Park, and though the route remains undisclosed, there will be food and a place to rest for participants once the march is done.

Though Wednesday is a regular workday, Cosecha is asking everyone who can to participate in this economic action to show the power of immigrants and allies: don't attend work or school, and don't shop in stores on this day. The community will feel the impact and respond to the need for immigrant labor and immigrant dollars.

Lowe says, "The May 1st march has grown tremendously for this year. It started in Grand Rapids, but now cities all over Michigan are participating, including Detroit and Kalamazoo.  We have people coming in from Alto, Ionia, Grant, Holland and more. It’s even happening in other states, like New Jersey and Massachusetts and Georgia.

"When the whole state is marching like this, we will make progress on getting Driver’s License for All.  Groups all over the state are going to hear our Roar for Licenses. We're going to have the language for a bill. We can see that we are going to be able to drive without fear. We want to volunteer in our children’s schools and be able to produce our ID for a background check.  We’ll want to order a drink when we’re dining out at a local business. It will happen because we all come together to march and dance in the streets, to show our power as a huge immigrant community with allies.”

When asked about the risk of marching on May 1st, Maria answers,”I already took such a huge risk to come to this country where I didn’t know anyone.  I take a risk every day when I have to drive my children to school or drive to work. This march is not a risk compared to that.”

Lowe adds, “And we are careful.  We have allies in crowd safety roles who help keep us safe, and we have allies to talk to police, to make sure we have water, and more.  We organize closely with allies who are in this fight with us.”

“I think about all that we do, the immigrant community,” says Maria.  “I’m so proud of us - the businesses of Grand Rapids run because of our labor.  We harvest for people, we prepare food for people, we build the buildings that people use, we take care of people. We’re going to show them our power.  We’re going to show our children how to make their voices heard.”

Allies who want to support the march can sign up here.  People can join the Facebook event for the march here.

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