Immigration advocates see Martin Luther King Jr. anniversary as an opportunity

Chris Moody
Yahoo! News
FILE- In this Aug. 28, 1963, black-and-white file photo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Former South African president Nelson Mandela never met with King but the two fought for the same issues at the same time on two different continents. Mandela said in a 1964 speech that he was prepared to die to see his dream of a society where blacks and whites were equal become reality. King was killed by an assassin's bullet while working for that same dream.(AP Photo/File)

Thousands are expected to gather for several events in Washington, D.C., over the next week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, but remembering and honoring the past isn’t the only objective on the agenda.

Immigrant rights advocates are planning to use the commemoration as an opportunity to rally for changes to immigration law that offer a pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally.

Groups such as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) plan to have a presence at a Saturday rally at the Lincoln Memorial co-sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. They will encourage lawmakers to adopt a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

“We will be marching so everyone knows that true justice involves enacting comprehensive immigration reform,” said NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “The 50th anniversary march should be an opportunity to celebrate how much progress our country has made. For us as a Latino community, it’s also a chance to show that Dr. King’s words resonated not just with one community, but with many and with an entire nation.”

Event organizers have said that the Saturday event will have multiple purposes, including advocating for jobs, reinforcement of protections by the Voting Rights Act, promoting legal protections for gays and lesbians, and passing an immigration bill.

The Saturday rally and the long list of events in the city surrounding the Aug. 28 anniversary will commemorate the original March on Washington and act as an advocacy platform for current issues, immigration advocates said.

“We have really two purposes. One, to look back in commemoration to those men and women who sacrificed so much to give us the America we’ve inherited today, and we are proud of what they did,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference. “But at the same time, there is more that needs to be done. … I’m not really concerned, nor do I fear, that the message of this march will become garbled. I think the diversity of march participants, the importance of lifting up issues like the need for comprehensive immigration reform have given us real purpose.”

The timing is ripe for those pushing for sweeping immigration reform legislation. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would increase border security and offer a pathway to citizenship for unlawful immigrants, and the House is expected to consider its own legislation on the issue in the coming months. Members of Congress will return to Washington in September for their fall session.