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‘Our existence is not a crime’

Tacoma immigrants-rights rally draws crowd

The Washington Dream Coalition hosted an immigrant rights rally Sunday afternoon at People’s Park in Tacoma that drew more than 150 people, including local and state politicians.
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The Washington Dream Coalition hosted an immigrant rights rally Sunday afternoon at People’s Park in Tacoma that drew more than 150 people, including local and state politicians.

Paul Quiñonez wants Tacomans to know the risk that the state’s thousands of undocumented migrants face: the prospect of deportation looming over every moment of their lives.

That feeling has only increased as President Donald Trump has ascended to the U.S. presidency with a hard-line stance against immigration.

“People are being detained in their own backyard, and they don’t even realize what’s going on,” Quiñonez said, referring to the Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats.

With that in mind, Quiñonez and other members of the Washington Dream Coalition hosted an immigrant-rights rally Sunday afternoon at People’s Park in Tacoma that drew more than 150 people, including local and state politicians.

But for Quiñonez, 22, the fight for immigrant rights is personal: He grew up undocumented after coming with his parents to Pasco at age 7 from Colima, Mexico. Now he’s a graduate of Gonzaga University and living in the Tacoma area thanks to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

Many members of the Washington Dream Coalition, a grassroots immigrant youth group, have similar stories, Quiñonez said.

Among the speakers at the event was Carolina Perez, a Renton woman whoholds a master’s degree.

Perez spent much of her speech talking about her family’s experience as undocumented migrants, including her sister’s recent death in a domestic violence incident.

“Our existence is not a crime,” said Perez, who also came to the U.S. at age 7.

Between speakers at the rally, Washington Dream Coalition gave advice to undocumented migrants, reminding them to not open their home to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents without a warrant and telling them to prepare plans in case they are detained or deported. Quiñonez translated the advice into Spanish for attendees.

Organizers also advised attendees on social media to corroborate their information and double-check its accuracy before posting it for their fans, friends or followers to see.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, took aim at Trump’s immigration policies and presented a message to the president: “America is great” — “He needs to know this. Perhaps we’ll get him a hat,” Kilmer joked. “We are better than this,” he continued. “We support Dreamers,” referring to people participating in the DACA program.

Tacoma City Councilmen Ryan Mello, Anders Ibsen and Marty Campbell each took a turn at the dais during the event.

Mello announced the city will be circulating a letter to demand the release of Daniel Ramirez Medina, the 23-year-old Des Moines man currently held at the Northwest Detention Center who was also in the DACA program. Federal officials say Ramirez told them of a gang affiliation, while his lawyers say he has no gang ties and has no criminal convictions.

Ibsen pointed out that Sunday was the 75th anniversary of the order that authorized the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“We should be better than this as Tacomans,” Ibsen said.

Campbell brought up that Tacoma was the first “welcoming city” for immigrants on the West Coast. A few spectators in the crowd took that as an opportunity to ask why the city hasn’t instead become a “sanctuary city,” a term with no legal definition that means a city won’t help enforce federal immigration laws. Campbell did not address the concerns.

Quiñonez said part of the Washington Dream Coalition’s intent with the event, which ended with a short march down Martin Luther King Jr. Way, was to force that conversation.

“We want to have a commitment from the city of Tacoma that they won’t be collaborating with ICE,” Quiñonez said.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker

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