Several speakers, including the former Thurston County public defense director, spoke passionately Sunday about the immigrant experience and immigrant rights in the United States.
Immigrants have come under fire recently, perhaps most notably in the form of President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Sunday’s gathering at Heritage Park, which was organized by Indivisible Thurston County and Our Revolution, presented a different narrative, one in which immigrants have contributed greatly to the creation of the U.S. and have not detracted from it.
Somewhere between 30 and 50 people came to hear the speakers, an attendance total that likely competed with Sunday’s sunny weather.
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“We need to take back the immigrant story,” immigration attorney Steffani Powell told the audience. “This is not a story of rapists, murderers, welfare recipients, tax evaders and job stealers. It is not a story that they need to be forced out and kept out by a wall.”
Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound president Bill Fishburn, whose mother was born in Panama and who became a U.S. citizen in the 1980s, said she recently expressed fear that she could lose her citizenship.
“Why should she have to ask that?” he said about his mother. “Why should anyone have to ask that or be afraid?”
Fishburn praised Powell’s skills as an attorney, but he also said he hopes there will be a time when she has to find a different line of work “because we are a welcome, inclusive community, represented by a welcome and inclusive government.”
“My name is Bill Fishburn, and I am the son of a immigrant,” he said before the next speaker.
Daryl Rodrigues, the former Thurston County public defense director, shared his story with the audience.
His parents were born in India and moved to England where Rodrigues was raised until he was 19 and came to the U.S.
“I grew up in post-colonial England, so I was viewed as that person who stole a job from someone else,” he said.
But when he came to the U.S., he was welcomed.
“I fear that’s not the same welcome today’s immigrants are getting,” Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues, who was wearing an “I am an immigrant” T-shirt, said he also did not reflect the stereotypical view of the immigrant.
“I’m not a drug dealer or an Ebola carrier,” he said. “I’ve represented drug dealers, killers and rapists, and almost all of them, to my observation, have been Caucasian or born in the United States.”
Rodrigues talked about what immigrants aren’t, but also what they are: Taxpayers, employees, renters, property owners and consumers, all contributing to what the U.S. is today, he said.
After he was done speaking, the audience began to chant, “Run, Daryl. Run, Daryl,” likely urging him to run for elected office.