TAMPA — Hundreds gathered in downtown Tampa on Monday night to urge Congress to pass legislation leading to a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
“We are people of peace,” said Juanita Moyeda, of Lakeland. “We’re not people who come here to cause harm.”
Moyeda, who said she came to the United States in the 1990s on a tourist visa and now has become a U.S. citizen, logged 150 miles on the walk, which started Oct. 7 in Winter Garden and concluded Monday evening in downtown Tampa. Along the way, Moyeda and others had stops in Lakeland and Plant City.
“We have hope and confidence that (immigration reform) will be reached,” said Moyeda, 54, who marched with a wooden cross. “There are a number of families who are waiting. We have faith.’’
The march included a prayer vigil at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Tampa, and from there, participants marched to the federal courthouse.
The demonstration was large enough that police shut down Florida Avenue. Tampa police estimated the crowd at about 800; organizers estimated 2,000.
Bishop Robert Lynch, who heads the St. Petersburg Diocese, spoke to the audience both at Sacred Heart and outside the courthouse. He saw a correlation between Christianity and today’s immigrants.
“The circumstances of the Holy Family over 2,000 years ago were only slightly different than those which drive people to immigrate to the United States – safety, security, especially economic, and hope for a better future,” Lynch said.
Lynch recognized and celebrated the work of immigrants in society, including the work recently done in renovating the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg.
He also admonished those who opposed immigration reform.
“It is at best hypocrisy to say today, ‘I love God,’ but all the while hating or detesting or fearing our sisters and brothers who came here seeking a more certain economic future for their spouses and children,” Lynch said.
The march and vigil were organized by People Improving Communities Through Organization, or PICO, a national faith-based organization that has a Florida chapter and is involved in social issues including immigration. The Diocese of St. Petersburg also was involved in organizing the event, including the prayer vigil on Monday night.
Nanci Palacios, a PICO campaign manager who lives in Seffner, said the march raised awareness and credited Lynch with helping the movement gain momentum.
“This could have a lot of negative feedback for him,” Palacios said. “But it’s not. It’s a just cause.”