Immigrant rights group marches for driver’s licenses

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Immigrant rights supporters took to the streets of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Detroit Wednesday to call for driver’s licenses or permits for people who are in the country illegally.

The demand for access to driver’s licenses has been a rallying cry for Cosecha Michigan for years. Right now, you need to be able to show that you’re in the country legally to get a Michigan’s driver’s license.

“…We’re asking to have these driver’s licenses so our community can productively drive without fear, go to work, be able to take their kids to school without worrying about when they get back,” local march organizer Jose Jimenez said.

The group says a dozen states currently allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses or permits.

The May Day march is an annual tradition for Cosecha to draw attention to immigrant issues. Xochica Avilles believes so strongly in the cause that she pulled her three children from school so they, too, could march.

“I’m here because we are here together and we need to stay together for our kids — my kids especially,” Avilles said.

She said that her husband, the father of her three children, was deported three years ago after he was pulled over for a traffic infraction.

“I don’t got a driver’s license and I have to go out and work every day for them because they have only me,” Avilles said. “They have only me, so I have to be here for them.”

This year, the Grand Rapids Police Department warned march organizers that anyone who blocked traffic during the demonstration would be arrested. The group opted not to apply for permits to march in the city’s streets.

“Rosa Parks didn’t ask for permission to sit on the bus. Cesar Chavez didn’t ask for a permit. Martin Luther King (Jr.) didn’t have a dream but saying only if you have a permit,” Jimenez said. “We believe in our First Amendment rights to express ourselves and we believe we’re going to be doing it.”

Jimenez said the goal for the event was zero arrests while still bringing attention to their cause.

“We have people in the march who cannot afford to be arrested,” he said before the event. “This isn’t our first year marching. The only thing that’s changed is GRPD’s hardline stance on us.”

Sgt. Dan Adams said GRPD’s primary goal in policing the event was safety.

“We’re in no way attempting to censor or interfere with anyone’s First Amendment rights,” he said.

Last year, some marchers broke through police lines when officers were trying to keep them on the main route. Two people were arrested, but charges were eventually withdrawn by the city attorney.

Hundreds of people took part in this year’s march, which started in Garfield Park in Grand Rapids and ended hours later in Pinery Park in Wyoming. At some points, intersections were brought to standstill while the large group crossed the street.

“I know a lot of people do not agree with our tactics. We do disrupt, but that is because our families are being disrupted every single day. So if it’s 20 minutes on the road, our families are being disrupted for a lifetime,” Jimenez said.

GRPD was joined by Michigan State Police in monitoring the demonstration on horseback and bicycles.

Throughout, the march was peaceful. No one was arrested and no injuries were reported.

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