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Legalize all immigrants!
Demand 25,000 demonstrators in New York
Actions for immigrant rights continue across U.S.
More than 25,000 immigrant workers and supporters rally April 1 in Manhattans Federal Plaza after marching over the Brooklyn Bridge. Signs say, Legalize all immigrants.
BY MICHAEL ORTEGA
AND MICHAEL ITALIE
NEW YORKWere here, were not leaving, and if you kick us out, we will come back! protesters chanted here April 1 as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. About 25,000 people, mostly Latin American-born workers, took part in the demonstration, which poured into Foley Square in lower Manhattan.
It was one of a series of protests around the country against HR 4437, known as the Sensenbrenner bill, passed by the House of Representatives last December. The bill makes it a felony to be in the United States without proper documents or to aid undocumented immigrants.
We are workers, not criminals was often chanted along the march route and appeared on many preprinted and hand-written signs.
All the laws make things difficult for the undocumented, said Luis Yumbla of the 9-11 Latin American Workers Committee. Yumbla, originally from Ecuador, said he lost his license as an asbestos worker because the boss demanded a Social Security number. His group is made up of immigrant workers who were hired for the cleanup after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, but were given inadequate or no safety equipment for work in the toxic debris.
Union contingents at the New York march included a busload of members of Laborers International Union Local 79 and a group from Service Employees International Union Local 1199. A dozen members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 348 from the Sweet N Low plant in Brooklyn carried their signs in the protest.
Most of the demonstrators came on their own or were organized by community or church groups. The action was promoted widely in the Spanish-language press and radio.
On March 25, more than half a million people turned out in Los Angeles to protest HR 4437. Under the impact of this and other recent demonstrations nationwide, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted March 27 not to include felony charges in its proposal. An alternate bill has been introduced in the Senate by Republican John McCain and Democrat Edward Kennedy. It would establish a pool of guest workers with fewer protections than other U.S. residents. Undocumented workers would have to pay hefty fines and application fees to receive a temporary work visa for six years, during which they would be required to maintain their job, a condition tying their status to their employers and allowing the U.S. government to track their movements. After six years they would be able to apply for permanent residency. The bill would also beef up the border police.
Seeking to tap the widespread anger among immigrants at the Sensenbrenner bill, some politicians are promoting the McCain-Kennedy proposal as an alternative, saying it would allow many of the 12 million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. Speaking along these lines, several Democratic politicians addressed the New York action, including U.S. congresspeople Charles Rangel, Nydia Velázquez, and Anthony Weiner; and State Senator Ruben Diaz.
Among the demonstrators, there was a mix of opinions about the proposed bills. Carolina and Ricardo Rodríguez, from Winchester, Virginia, said the McCain-Kennedy bill would be a step in the right direction. Its better because six years is enough. Most people come for that.
Mayra Hernández, a student at the Columbia School of Social Work, said the McCain-Kennedy bill was a form of legalized slavery like the U.S. governments 1942-64 bracero program. A contingent of 50 from an alliance of Chinese immigrant organizations marched in opposition to both immigration bills.
Summing up the feeling of many marchers, María González, a house cleaner and baby sitter originally from El Salvador, said, These laws make our lives hell. We have a right to a drivers license and other things in order to live.
Among other actions that day, 5,000 people marched to the state capitol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, against a proposal in the state that would bar undocumented workers from Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs, and require state workers to report on applicants whose documents they suspected.
In Newark, New Jersey, hundreds of students marched calling for passage of the federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that would provide undocumented high school graduates temporary residency so they could attend college and be eligible for reduced in-state tuition rates.
On March 31, some 2,000 students in San Diego skipped school to attend an immigrant rights march and rally. Another 1,000 high school students marched in Bakersfield, California. About 2,000 protesters, most of them high school students, rallied that day in El Paso, Texas.
More than 2,500 people marched in Yakima, Washington, April 2. In Miami that day hundreds gathered outside the Orange Bowl to demand amnesty for undocumented workers. More protests are planned nationwide for April 10.
Eric Simpson from Miami and Cecelia Moriarity from Seattle contributed to this article.
Amnesty! Legalize undocumented now!
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