Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sacra Bee: Immigrants, backers speak up: 'My people do the dirty work':


1 million protest
Immigrants, backers speak up: 'My people do the dirty work'
By Susan Ferriss -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, May 2, 2006

More than 1 million immigrants and supporters protested in cities across California and the nation Monday, issuing another mass appeal for immigration reform that recognizes undocumented workers make a critical contribution to the U.S. economy.

Crowds at a morning rally in Los Angeles reached 250,000 Monday and grew to more than 400,000 at an afternoon protest, according to police.

Cities across the state and the country saw some of the largest crowds since late March, when protests erupted over proposed immigration reforms.

In one of the biggest demonstrations in Sacramento in recent years, police estimated that between 15,000 and 18,000 - organizers said 36,000 to 40,000 - massed at the state Capitol and marched downtown chanting "Sí, se puede" - yes, it can be done - while they carried American flags, pushed baby carriages and hoisted placards declaring "We're Not Terrorists" and "Stop Dehumanizing Us."

Protesters - who were overwhelmingly Latino and included legal residents, undocumented residents and U.S. citizens - marched by the tens of thousands in cities from San Francisco and Oakland to Florida and Chicago as part of a coordinated nationwide work stoppage called "A Day Without Immigrants" or "The Great American Boycott."

They marched to protest a House of Representatives bill that would instantly convert up to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States into felons and open up the possibility of felony prosecution of people who could be accused of helping undocumented people remain in the United States.

The Senate is considering an alternative that would legalize some undocumented workers and their family members.

Many meatpacking plants, restaurants, hotels, construction companies and farming companies in California and elsewhere allowed workers to go to protests and reported scattered absences.

Some said they joined peaceful protests because they were angered by the House bill and comments on television and radio they feel are unduly harsh against illegal immigrants.

"My people do the dirty work. Even though the U.S. economy is giving us an opportunity to work, we get the crumbs. And we survive on the crumbs. But it's better than it is back in their countries," said Norma Cepe, 36, of Modesto, who was born in the United States to parents who came from Mexico without papers and is now married to a former undocumented immigrant.

Cepe, who marched in Sacramento, said many critics of illegal immigrants "try to pretend they don't know what's been going on. They allow us to cross the border. Now that they think there's too many of us, they want to throw some of us out."

Diva Elizares skipped work at the Rocklin Unified School District and took her 11-year-old daughter to the Sacramento protest because she wanted her to understand that undocumented immigrants - like her daughter's grandmother was - are struggling to survive.

"Let's do it the right way," she said of immigration reform.

Clad in a "God Bless America" T-shirt and waving an American flag, she said she doesn't believe arguments that illegal immigrants cost the country more in tax dollars than they contribute.

Only a handful of counterdemonstrators showed up at the Capitol protest.

One of them, Michael Smith, said, "They have a country. They're just too lazy and corrupt to do anything to make it a success themselves."

Twenty-seven percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District's students were reportedly absent Monday, and in the Sacramento City Unified School District about 3,000 students out of more than 50,000 were absent.

In schools with many Latino students, as many as 35 percent were absent, the district reported. In the small farming town of Woodland, almost a third of the 10,000 students did not show up.

In Los Angeles, activist Bobby Verdugo, who organized Latino student walkouts in 1968 over poor school conditions, said Monday's protests have helped take the issue of immigrant rights "to a whole new level."

"There is a whole new sense of fearlessness," Verdugo said.

In San Francisco, where 30,000 demonstrated, undocumented plumber Javier Zaragoza protested with his 14-year-old son and other family members who traveled from Petaluma.

"We're not really criminals," he said. "We're just trying to survive. We're not trying to steal the land."

In Oakland, an estimated 15,000 to 17,000 marched, and in the farming city of Salinas crowds as big as 20,000 gathered.

Joining the throng in Sacramento, an undocumented construction worker named Magdaleno, who asked that his last name not be revealed because of fear of deportation, said he came to the United States from Huauchinango, in the Mexican state of Puebla, where impoverished farmers have become even more desperate in recent years because of U.S. corn imports and other economic changes.

"I would tell Americans to think about if they had a need," he said in Spanish.

"If my family is hungry, I must feed them. Imagine, to get here to work you have to cross a desert with only God knowing if you will make it. I live every day worried that the immigration agents will catch me. All I want to do is make enough money so I have something to take back to my family."

Tomato farm worker Cayetano Hernandez, 67, who received amnesty after a 1986 immigration reform, said he has sons who live and work in Sacramento without papers and have been waiting years to become legal residents.

"We're not terrorists," he said. "We're getting accused of everything."

Also in Sacramento, immigration attorney Douglas Lehrman, said: "People wonder why the illegal immigrant population has grown so much. It's now taking about six or seven years for a person of lawful status to get his wife or children here. And no, I'm not trying to get more clients. I have plenty right now."

In contrast to the House bill, the Senate is debating a measure that would overhaul laws by requiring more stringent document checks in workplaces but also provide earned legalization for many illegal immigrants.

In response to a broad lobbying effort by U.S. business associations, some labor unions and immigrant rights groups, the Senate bill would also dramatically increase the numbers of work visas available for foreigners.

Americans have seen a deep divide emerge over what to do about illegal immigration. Some of it is ethnic, with many people of Latino descent complaining that undocumented workers are scapegoats accused unjustly of welfare abuse and taking away jobs from Americans.

"It's survival. People would not be here if they could have the same life in Mexico that they have here," said Hilda Casillas, a naturalized U.S. citizen and business administration student at CSU Sacramento.

In the nation's capital, the focus was on words and resolutions rather than large protests.

At the White House Monday, press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters: "The president is not a fan of boycotts" but supports comprehensive immigration reform with some sort of legalization or guest-worker visas.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement condemning a resolution that supported the boycott, passed last week by California's Democrat-led state Senate, and Boehner called on congressional Democrats to also condemn it.

In the San Joaquin Valley, where the economy is fueled by farm labor and where immigrants from around the globe have settled, many workers went to marches and some took their children out of school to go with them. In the small town of Linden, 147 students - 30 percent of the student body - was absent.

In Sacramento, immigrants from countries other than Latin America seemed to keep businesses open. Shiela Prakash, who co-owns the Pacific Asian Mart in south Sacramento, said Monday's action was "mostly for Mexican people," although she sympathizes with illegal immigrants from Mexico because she said she thinks they take jobs many people from her home country, Fiji, would spurn.

Some Latino-owned businesses were closed to show support for the boycott, but El Novillero, one of the city's largest Mexican restaurants, remained open.

"We received about five phone calls on Saturday, asking if we would be open on Monday," said Jose Davalos, co-owner of the popular restaurant on Franklin Boulevard.

"The callers were trying to intimidate us into closing. When my son and other employees said that yes, we would be open, the callers said that was bad."

El Novillero's employees, most of Mexican descent, didn't want Monday off, Davalos said.

"They wanted to work," he said. "That's why they came to this country."

About the writers:
The Bee's Susan Ferriss can be reached at (916) 321-1267 or sferriss@sacbee.com. Bee staff writers M.S. Enkoji, Ed Fletcher, Laurel Rosenhall, Blair Anthony Robertson, Carrie Peyton Dahlberg and Edgar Sanchez contributed to this report, reporting from Sacramento. Bee staff writer Laura Mecoy contributed from Los Angeles; Dorsey Griffith from San Joaquin County; Herbert A. Sample from San Francisco and Margaret Talev from Washington, D.C. Bee researcher Sheila A. Kern also contributed.

Comment on Sac Bee Website:
Peta said: 1 Million and a Lot More Protest

Amnesty for illegal immigrants for those who are already here is the most sane way out of this whole immigration crisis. Much of the opposition to immigrant rights is that same old American curse: racism!

Racist Americans who oppose fair immigration reform need to be educated and study the true history of the U.S. southwest, including the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

You title is misleading. It does not specify one million where. Plus, the added amount of protestors across the country adds up to real millions.

In this morning's Sacramento Bee, which we subscribe to, why the discrepancy between the police department low estimate and that of the actual organizers? I was there and estimate over 40,000. Definitely far more than police estimates. This is a pattern that is routinely repeated across the country.

We should remember that all these lands were once Aztlan ~ Our Land ~ under the control of original native peoples. To give the descendants of the original owners of these lands amnesty is fair, just and humane.

Join Native Resistance!
Peter S. Lopez
Sacramento, Califas, Aztlan
Email: sacranative@yahoo.com

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