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Monday, April 10, 2006
More Than 75 Organizations March for Immigration Reform
By Debra Dominguez-Lund, Gabriela C. Guzman and Russell Max Simon
Journal Staff Writers
Wearing white shirts and waving white flags, thousands of immigrants and their supporters made their message clear in Albuquerque and Santa Fe on Sunday:
"Sí, se puede" "Yes, we can" marchers chanted as they walked from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to the historic plaza and St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe.
"Somos trabajadores, no criminales," declared a sign at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. "We are workers, not criminals."
"We are not here to hurt anyone, or to do wrong," said Azucena Molinar, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant who has lived and worked in Albuquerque for 16 years.
"We're just human beings trying to find opportunity like everyone else," said Molinar, who joined an estimated 2,000 people at an immigrant reform rally organized by El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
The event, which included music and guest speakers, was held in solidarity with today's National Day of Action for Fair, Dignified Immigration Policy.
Show of strength
More than 75 community, labor, student, political and faith-based organizations throughout New Mexico united in statewide mobilizations Sunday to support comprehensive immigration reform.
On the heels of the Senate's failure to enact what immigrant rights groups call viable immigration reform, New Mexico immigrant groups and allies called for a fair and workable policy. The took their cases to New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman and other members of Congress. Leaders of these organizations said they want reform that does not criminalize undocumented immigrants and the agencies that help them, They also want rules that create a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers and students in the country and safe and legal means for future immigrant workers to migrate to the United States with full workplace protection.
"Millions of lives are at stake," said Mayté García, student leader and board member of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant-rights organization.
Speaking at the crowded outdoor amphitheater at the Hispanic Cultural Center, García said, "Immigrants will continue to mobilize until Congress puts aside its election-year politics and passes an immigration bill that gives our families an opportunity to become legal and permanent residents and fully integrated members of our community."
Robert Frausto, a Highland High School teacher, was in attendance. Holding a poster with photos of four Mexican immigrants who were killed in Iraq fighting for the United States, Frausto asked: "If they are criminals, why are we letting them fight? Immigrants are good enough to fight and die for the United States, but they are seemingly not good enough to work, seek opportunity or seek equal rights here," he said.
Santa Fe rally
The streets of downtown Santa Fe were white with images of unity and equality as an estimated 2,000 marchers showed their support for immigrant rights and immigration reform.
Reasons for marching in the City Different varied.
Being called a criminal was the last straw for Alicia Mendoza, a 26-year-old mother of two.
"It's time that there is something for us. We are here in peace and to move our families forward," Mendoza said in Spanish as she gently rocked a stroller that held her 6-month-old daughter.
Mendoza crowded into the back of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church with her 5-year-old son, two nephews and mother- and sister-in-law before heading out into the street.
Mendoza's situation is a common one among immigrant families: She has no immigration papers, but her husband is a legal U.S. resident and both of her children are U.S. citizens.
In a significant portion of the estimated 6.6 million immigrant families living in the United States, at least one parent is undocumented, but at least one child is a U.S. born-citizen, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
"We want all people to support us those with papers and those without," Mendoza said.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido had urged the Santa Fe marchers to wear white instead of their national colors and not to carry Mexican flags or the flags of other Latin American countries.
"We feel that there has been a lot of division over the flag in other communities," said Marcela Diaz, Somos executive director, following the event. The group wanted the message to be clear achieving a workable solution to immigration is about civil and human rights regardless of your country of origin, she said.
The Santa Fe march ended in a rally at Cathedral Park where Archbishop Michael Sheehan talked about standing up for immigrant rights and Mayor David Coss said people need to reject "politics of fear and division."
Others who spoke, including Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano, were outspoken in their criticism of U.S. immigration policy.
Solano admonished Republicans for wanting to "build a wall" between Mexico and the United States and recalled the words etched in the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free."
"We must oppose laws that crack down on illegal immigrants... We have a God-given mandate to care for our brothers and sisters. This is not a Mexican vs. American thing. This is a human-rights issue," Solano said.
Aside from blocking traffic for a few hours, the event went on without any incidents, police said.
"We had no antagonizers anywhere along the route. Everything went very smoothly," said Interim Santa Fe Police Chief Raye Byford.
Andrea Plaza, a board member with immigrant-rights group Enlace Comuntario, said the Albuquerque rally "was organized to build momentum as immigrants and their supporters are uniting across the country. We want them to know it's safe to come out in numbers," Plaza said, "and we want the public to know these are families, not criminals."
Mexican immigrants Perla and Ramon Ayala were among the many families present at the Albuquerque rally. The couple attended the event with their three children and said they were there to oppose HR 4437, the immigration legislation being debated in Congress, and to support immigrants in the United States.
"We are human beings, too," Perla Ayala said, "We deserve a future in this country and to be happy."