#100Miles100Women: A March to D.C. for Immigrant Rights during Pope Visit

Sep 22, 2015
11:07 AM
(Keith Trice/Flickr)

(Keith Trice/Flickr)

At 4 p.m. EST today, a group of women — at least 100 — will enter Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. From there they’ll walk to McPherson Square downtown. By the time they reach the plaza, they’ll have been walking for eight days, from York, Pennsylvania near the Susquehanna River and across Maryland through Baltimore.

They call their pilgrimage “100 Miles, 100 Women,” the goal of which is to enlist the aid of the visiting Pope Francis — also arriving in D.C. on Tuesday — in the cause for immigrant justice. The women have come from over 10 states and varying backgrounds.

Among them is Ana Cañenguez, who is currently in deportation proceedings and is wearing the same shoes she wore during her five-day trek across the desert with her two children from El Salvador. Juana Flores, a former nun, is the co-director Mujeres Unidas y Activas in San Francisco, which works with domestic workers and battered women. Rosi Carrasco is an undocumented mother from Chicago who has been an outspoken leader in the immigrant rights movement, despite her own eligibility for deportation. Andrea Cristina Mercado heads the We Belong Together campaign that advocates for immigrant women and children. Rosario Reyes, an undocumented mother from Maryland, hasn’t seen her son since leaving El Salvador 12 years ago.

“We come for a peaceful life, but some people don’t want us here,” Silvia Gonzalez, a Seattle housemaid who immigrated illegally from Mexico 15 years ago, told the Washington Post. “We know the pope’s voice is very powerful. People don’t know how we suffer, but they listen to him.”

More from the Post:

The women’s placards and T-shirts were emblazoned with the broad slogan ‘dignity for migrants.’ There was no mention of their undocumented status, a topic that has drawn vitriol in the public arena, especially as part of the 2016 Republican presidential race.

As they marched, the women were met with constant displays of support — in both middle-class suburbs and poor urban districts, whether passing college campuses, tidy green lawns or blocks of dilapidated and boarded-up rowhouses.

Drivers slowed and beeped encouragingly. Families waved from apartment balconies. People ran after the women and asked them to pose for photos. An elderly man looked up from his gardening and wished them well. A younger man leaning unsteadily outside a liquor store gave a grinning thumbs-up.

Only a handful of Hispanics were among the hundreds of onlookers they passed.

In a profile of the pilgrimage on the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ blog, Mercado of We Belong Together explains why the women have specifically targeted the pope for aid:

We believe that most people in the U.S. and around the world would choose to welcome migrants and refugees into our communities. We see people opening their hearts and homes every day. Through our pilgrimage, we will lift up the best of who we are together. The pope’s words have been a balm for us in a time still so filled with suffering. We look forward to welcoming him when he comes to D.C., as he encourages world leaders to reflect compassion in their actions.

Once at McPherson Square, the women will hold a candlelight vigil. They don’t expect to actually see the visiting pontiff and have taken up the pilgrimage merely to draw attention to immigrant crisis and hopefully elicit a response from Francis sometime soon.

“I am part of this country, and I have always tried to be a good citizen,” a Connecticut house cleaner, whose son was deported to Mexico, told the Post. “I don’t have papers, but I work hard, and I pay taxes. There are a lot of other women like me. We should have rights, too.”