GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday to protest immigration laws in a march that made its way from southwest Grand Rapids to Calder Plaza.
The event began at Roosevelt Park with the march stepping out onto Grandville Avenue shortly after 12:30 p.m. Participants gathered to rally at the Calder Plaza about three hours later.
Leading the parade of marchers were protestors carrying a large image of a Michigan driver’s license. Protest organizers said they want to see changes in a state law that prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license.
Protestors also want undocumented immigrants to have a path toward gaining legal status.
“There’s no normal channels. There is no way to become legal in this country,” said Karla Barberi, a volunteer organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, the organization that planned the march. “There is a lot of ignorance in how the process works. For me it took me 12 years to get residency status and I was married to a citizen.”
Grand Rapids police expressed frustration that the group seemed unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement officials who wanted to chart a plan to ensure the event went on safely. At one point, police said the protestors disobeyed commands from officers.
“Group has broken through the road block at Bartlett St Sw, past police tape, cruiser, police bikes, and police commands,” a 2:19 p.m. post to the Grand Rapids Police Department’s Twitter feed read. “This route was avoided due to heavy construction…making adjustments of personnel now…”
Police were concerned that the group was trying to gain access to US-131 in an effort to shut the highway down for a time. Several police vehicles were set up to create a barrier to the Market Avenue on- and off-ramps as the group marched through the area.
“They didn’t want us to go through that way. One of the main concerns was ‘Are you guys going to take the highway?’… No, we wouldn’t risk that with the families, but we did want to make sure we hit that (Market Avenue and US-131) intersection right there,” Barberi said after the march concluded.
“We met our goal and that’s the bottom line,” GRPD Sgt. Cathy Williams said. “Everyone was safe here today. No officers got hurt and no marchers got hurt.”
The size of the crowd changed as the march progressed. Williams said police estimate more than 1,000 people were involved in the march at its peak.