Immigrants rights activists kicked off a day of protest yesterday with an energetic rally that culminated in a march through the heart of the Mission District. Participants included a broad coalition of representatives from almost every major immigrant group in the city, all of who lashed out strongly against an immigration bill currently being debated in the Senate. Competing proposals include a house bill that would make felons out of both illegal immigrants and those that provide these people services, as well as a Senate compromise that could provide work permits and opportunities for citizenship for some of nation’s 11 million immigrants. Those at the rally stated unequivocally that immigrants have played a positive role in the U.S., and deserve federal policy that supports their plight rather than criminalizes them.
While the ultimate outcome of the Congress’ current debate over immigration reform remains unsure, yesterday immigrant groups maintained the strong message they’ve been sending to Washington – that their contributions to the country’s economy and culture demand they be treated as equals.
“The U.S. government has forgotten that this country was built by the blood, sweat and tears of immigrant people of color,” said Eloise Lee of the Filipino Community Center.
Lee, a Filipino who works with Filipino youth, declared her community’s support in the struggle for pro-immigrant policy reform. Joining Lee were groups with members from Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia, all of which emphasized unity as a vital weapon in their quest for change.
“They want to divide us, they want to discriminate against us, and above all, they want to kick us out of this country,” said Luis Herrera, with Saint Peters Housing Committee. “We want enough time to organize ourselves and have Congress pass fair immigration reform.”
Judging by the turnout at yesterday’s events, the city’s immigrant community has a good start towards organizing themselves to pressure Congress about their issues. Organizers used yesterday’s rally to inform people about two more upcoming events, including a ‘Mega March’ on April 23, and a national call for a work and school strike on May 1st, which is International Workers Day.
Participants hope the strike will show the country what a day without immigrant workers and students would look like, and will reveal the dangerous consequences to the economy should the nation’s illegal immigrants be forced out. They declared their plans to put all their resources into both events.
“It’s time for millions in the streets,” said Juan Valdivia of the Day Labor Program. “We’ll have our kids on the streets, we’ll have our families on the streets, until we get the respect we deserve.”