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March for immigrant rights fills the streets in Grand Rapids

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
A three mile march through the streets of Grand Rapids ended at Calder Plaza downtown.

A large protest briefly shut down some Grand Rapids streets Monday afternoon. About a thousand people took to the streets, marching three miles from Garfield Park on the city's Southeast side to Calder Plaza downtown. 

Many held signs that said, “Stop separating families.” They chanted for dignity and respect and an end to deportations.

Lorena Cruz says she was brought to the U.S. when she was 12 years old, when her parents fled a war in El Salvador. She says the U.S. is a land of opportunity.

Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The protest, blocking Ionia Ave. in Grand Rapids

"How many of you want opportunity for your children?" she asked the crowd, as it filled Ionia Ave. near downtown. "My parents wanted that opportunity for me."

Cruz says she will graduate later this month with her bachelor’s degree from Cornerstone University. 

Cyndi Hicks came to the march to fight for a change in the nation's immigration laws. She carried a sign that read, "America deported and destroyed my family forever." She says her husband was deported to Guatemala a year and a half ago after trying for 10 years to fix his immigration status. 

"There's no line," she said. "If you ever come here for fear of your life and you cross the border without permission or a paper and you didn't win your asylum case, which happens, you will not be allowed to have -quote- legal status."

The march was organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR

Not everyone along the march's route supported the protesters. Police directed traffic and blocked streets as the crowd marched toward downtown. 

"I think it's stupid," said Burt Johnson, who watched the march from near a bus stop along Division Avenue. "It's a waste of time to be honest." 

Johnson said he knows a lot of good people are in the United States undocumented. He guessed some of his friends might even have participated in the march. 

"Whether they're good people or not, it doesn't mean that they're above the law." 

"So they should leave?" I asked him.

"Not leave," he said. "But we do need a program." 

But there isn't a program now. For most people who are undocumented in the U.S., there's currently no path in U.S. law to fix their immigration status. 

So how will the U.S. fix that?

"Well, I guess [by] doing what they're doing," said Johnson, nodding toward the people marching in the street.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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