WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform activists came to the National Mall on Monday with a slightly different attitude than other revelers. They, like everyone else, were excited to be there and happy for the president to be starting another term. They were thankful to him for a policy implemented last year that gives some undocumented young people deferred action so they can work and remain in the country for at least two years.
But the 120 people from the immigration advocacy group Casa de Maryland who gathered near the Washington Monument want more. For many, their attendance was part celebratory, part a call for action.
"What do we want?" asked Ricardo Campos, an undocumented 23-year-old from El Salvador, his voice growing hoarse from yelling.
"Immigration reform!" the others replied.
"When do we want it?" he asked.
The group first gathered by the Farragut North metro stop, where a band had set up shop to play for tips. They gathered around and the band began to play "La Bamba" with some modified lyrics -- adding "Obama" and "immigration reform, we want it now." Some of the Dreamers handed out blue flyers that called for reform as other Inauguration-goers streamed out of the station.
They then walked to the Mall in a large cluster, many wearing red hats that said "Casa de Maryland." About half were Dreamers -- young undocumented immigrants who would benefit from the Dream Act -- while others were their families and friends. They chanted "Si se puede!" as they walked.
Obama has promised to fight hard for immigration reform in his second term, after an election with record Latino turnout, mostly for him. He echoed that statement in his speech on Monday.
"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," he said, as the Casa de Maryland group cheered.
Many members of the group worked last year toward the president's reelection. Campos said it was difficult to rally Latino voters who supported Obama in 2008, but who weren't sure they wanted to support him again after he broke a campaign promise to push for immigration reform in his first term. Although the economy and jobs rank at the top of the list for most Latino voters, immigration is found in many polls to be an important, often personal issue, and a rallying one.
"Many Latinos said, 'We don't believe in him anymore,'" Campos said. "We made those people believe again in him."
Other Dreamers at the Inauguration said they expect Obama to respond to his election victory among Latino voters by following through on the vow for immigration reform he made again in his 2012 campaign.
"The Latino community had a huge impact on his reelection. We are here to remind him he has to fulfill his promise," said Claudia Quinonez, 18, who came to the United States in 2006 from Bolivia and is now undocumented. She applied for deferred action, but has not yet heard back.
Despite gains for immigrants during the past four years, there have been major disappointments in the Obama administration's enforcement decisions, such as expanding deportation to record levels. Gustavo Andrade, the organizing director for Casa de Maryland, said the group also wants to press Obama to stop deporting non-criminals with families, as well as other people deemed low-priority by the government who are sometimes removed anyway.
"We want an end to the unjust deportations that are tearing families apart," he said.
Andrade came to the United States as a child on a visa, but was undocumented -- a "Dreamer before the Dream Act," he said -- for a while before getting a green card and then eventually becoming a citizen in 2008. He said Monday was also about looking back at the victories of last year.
"We're not here to celebrate Barack Obama's victory only," he said, "we're here to celebrate the victory of the people who all came together as Latinos, African Americans, Asians, gay, straight, who came to show the world what kind of people we want to be."
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