12-year-old immigrant talks justice at Md. MLK breakfast

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) – The clatter of silverware went silent Monday morning as a sixth-grader from Annapolis extended Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to immigrant children during an annual breakfast dedicated to the civil rights leader’s memory.

Katherine Hernandez Marroquin sketched the history of the Civil Rights movement from Selma 50 years ago to the U.S. Mexican border today as members of Congress, House Speaker Mike Busch, County Executive Steve Schuh and dozens other public officials listened among a hushed crowd.

“It causes me great pain to see young immigrant children risk their lives entering borders only to be arrested and imprisoned as an adult when their only crime is to come in search of their parents, siblings and seek a better life,” she said.

“Today, I become the voice of all those immigrant children who for a variety of reasons cannot express themselves as Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. said.”

The 12-year-old became the youngest keynote speaker in the 34-year-history of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast, and the first undocumented immigrant to address the gathering at Anne Arundel Community College. The event takes place each year on Martin Luther King Day.

With her parents listening from the audience with the assistance of translators provided by county schools, Katherine explained how they brought her to the United States at age 5 for a surgery she couldn’t get in her native El Salvador.

Her family stayed in the country and the Bates Middle School student said she has come to appreciate the history of the civil rights movement.

“Despite my young age, my heart has been touched to realize that for many years there have been men and women of great courage who have fought for civil and human rights,” she said.

Katherine cited President Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, King and the march on Washington, President Lyndon Johnson and the 1964 Voting Rights Act and Caesar Chavez, the farm labor organizer.

“Despite all these struggles and successes, at present discrimination and suffering are not over. In many places in this country, immigrant children continue to suffer from disrespect for our civil rights and ability to pursue the American Dream,” she said.

As her six-minute speech neared its conclusion, she recited some of King’s “I have a dream” speech and then offered her vision of where that dream should go next.

“Today I dream, like Mr. Martin Luther King Jr., that one day this nation will give the opportunity to immigrant children to reunite with their parents and siblings, provide them safety, security and respect … A dream that one day, children and immigrant kids have the chance to succeed in life and have a legal status.”

She concluded by offering thanks for King’s legacy as well as more recent events that have touched her personally.

“Finally, I want to thank our great President Mr. Barack Obama, who by executive action on immigration (gave) temporary legal status for immigrant families like my own,” she said. “Many thanks again, president Barack Obama – We the immigrant children.”

The breakfast also included remarks from many of the public officials seated at the dais with Katherine, although none captured the attention of the crowd or generated the applause as the student’s did.

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12-year-old immigrant talks justice at Md. MLK breakfast
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