Group organizes march to Davis' office on immigration reform

BLOOMINGTON — About 20 members of a central Illinois pro-immigration group plan to walk some 30 miles next weekend to ask U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, to support immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The Bloomington-based Illinois People's Action is organizing the two-day "Pilgrimage for Citizenship" march from Davis' downtown Decatur office to the office in his hometown.

The event is scheduled to begin with a service and a blessing by the Rev. Gregg Petri at 8:30 a.m. Friday at St. Mary's Church in Bloomington. Participants then will drive to Davis' Decatur office where the march will begin at 11 a.m.

The group is scheduled to arrive at the First United Methodist Church in Blue Mound around 6:30 p.m. Friday, where they will spend the night before leaving for Taylorville at about 7 a.m. Saturday. They are expected to arrive at Davis' Taylorville office by 1 p.m. Saturday.

"October 4th is a day in the Catholic faith that honors St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for making pilgrimages. Generally, we're a faith-based organization, and pilgrims of all religions have done pilgrimages as a sign of faithful commitment and sacrifice," said Jennifer Carrillo, a community organizer with Illinois People's Action. "It's a way of showing the degree of sacrifice and commitment that these folks are willing to make to get some kind of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

"It's also a way to honor those who make that sacrifice in coming to the United States. Many people don't make it across the border."

In addition to the 20 people making the walk next weekend, more than 100 are expected to meet the group in Taylorville, and others are expected at the events in Bloomington and Decatur, she said. All of the events, including the 30-mile walk, are open to the public.

Carrillo said members of the group have met separately with Davis and his congressional staff but were unsatisfied.

"He was always sort of noncommittal," Carrillo said. "He heard us out that there was a huge need in the community with this, that people were living in fear and that that needs to change. But he wanted to talk about border security. We said, 'OK, but here's what we think needs to happen.' And he was just noncommittal."

Carrillo called immigration reform "the most important social justice issue of this decade" and said the U.S. House "should make time for it," even with a limited congressional calendar remaining this year.

Benito Gomez, a 48-year-old undocumented immigrant living in central Illinois, said intends to participate in the 30-mile walk, in hopes to "increase the pressure locally" on Davis.

"The other big part," he said, "is in support with 11 million people who are currently living in the shadows and want to come out of the shadows. We do this to inspire them and also to create consciousness in our communities about this issue."

Gomez said he came to the United States from Mexico 13 years ago and has not seen his wife, his four children or his grandchildren in that time.

Andrew Flach, a spokesman for the congressman, said Monday that he didn't know if Davis would be in Taylorville on Saturday to welcome the walkers. He also said that Davis has not changed his position on immigration reform.

Davis said last year that the United States "must first continue to do to more to secure our borders to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Increased border patrols, finishing border fences and continuing our vigilance through enforcement are keys to controlling the number of illegal immigrants coming to the United States."

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