More than 150 people from Orange County and beyond gathered in Costa Mesa on Friday night to show solidarity with immigrants and push for changes to the nation's immigration system.
The event, held at The Crossing Church on Newport Boulevard, was part of El Camino del Inmigrante, or The Path of the Immigrant, an 11-day walking trek organized by the Christian Community Development Assn. in collaboration with other groups, including Bread for the World and World Relief.
The theme of Friday's rally was "Strangers No More," with organizers saying they hoped to promote solidarity with immigrants and raise awareness about families broken apart by deportation.
Participants began their 132-mile journey Saturday at Border Field State Park, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The march is scheduled to wrap up Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Among those who flocked to The Crossing for the evening of music, prayer, discussion and reflection was Adriana Mondragon, a 31-year-old Santa Ana resident.
She isn't a citizen, but she's lived, worked and gone to school in the United States since she was 5. Things that are relatively simple for most — getting a driver's license, a job — were more difficult for her growing up.
Mondragon said she doesn't have all the answers for how to fix the nation's immigration system, but of one thing she's certain: Something needs to change.
"I don't have the perfect solution, but what's in place now is not working," she said. "It's tearing families apart."
Mondragon said she was touched to see so many people take part in the event.
"It's a tremendous blessing to me," she said. "It gives me great courage to know that I'm not by myself, I'm not there alone and that I have family and friends who are walking with me on this journey."
Fullerton resident Bethany Anderson, 30, has walked more than 40 miles of El Camino del Inmigrante's route so far. She plans to walk more in the days ahead.
She explained how because the neighborhood she and her family live in is primarily comprised immigrants from Mexico, immigration reform hits close to home.
It's also why she's concerned about the political rhetoric made about immigrants.
"I think this is an important time to make a public stance that immigrants are really valuable to our community," Anderson said. "They contribute to our economy, they're an important part of the fabric of our nation and it's time that our system reflected that."
Officials from the Orange County Congregation Community Organization were on hand Friday helping attendees register to vote.
"I think it's an opportunity, given that a lot of people are actually turned off by some of the hard rhetoric against immigrants," said Miguel Hernandez, the organization's executive director. "We think it's an opportunity to bring people together."
Since entering Orange County, Anderson said the reaction of passersby to El Camino del Inmigrante hasn't necessarily been hostile, but it's been more skeptical than what she saw farther south.
"We ran into one man today who said, 'Yeah, immigrants deserve to be treated with dignity, but they're not entitled to citizenship,'" Anderson said. "And I just responded, 'Are any of us entitled to citizenship? Am I entitled to more rights because I was born a couple hundred miles north of a border? Am I entitled to more dignity and more opportunity or wealth or privilege because of where I was born versus where some of my friends and neighbors were born?'
"I don't think so."