GLEN ROCK, Pa.—As the hundred or so women stood in a field here, some nursing blisters and others stretching hamstrings, they received a dose of encouragement to keep trudging.
“We’re well on our way!” Andrea Cristina Mercado told the group, before they stepped onto a nearby trail after lunch to resume marching in the sunshine.
They are headed from York, Pa., to Washington, D.C.—100 women walking 100 miles to push for a path to legal residency or citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
They expect to reach the nation’s capital Tuesday, the same day as Pope Francis, who has called for better treatment of immigrants. The pope will also visit New York and Philadelphia during his six-day U.S. visit.
March organizers are trying to raise awareness at a time when some Republican presidential candidates urge tighter immigration laws. Real estate mogul Donald Trump,for example, wants to deport all illegal immigrants, end birthright citizenship and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans in Congress and across the country largely oppose President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which offered safe harbor for millions of people in the U.S. illegally. They argue Mr. Obama lacked the authority to change policy. Many Republicans also say it is misguided to allow people who are here illegally to stay, because it only encourages more illegal immigration.
“We’re becoming increasingly alarmed that the rhetoric is feeding an anti-immigrant sentiment in this country,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which is part of the We Belong Together campaign under whose banner the women are walking.
“That’s part of the reason the pope’s arrival is so important and the timing is so important,” she said. “His message of inclusion, cooperation and compassion is just such a different contrasting message.”
The walk started Tuesday, which means marchers will have to cover roughly 12 miles a day for eight days. Their support includes a volunteer medic, a truck-pulled portable toilet and two large buses.
Among the walkers is a 4-year-old and several women in their mid- to late 60s. Most are Hispanic, and many work as housekeepers in states around the country.