Source: Democrat and Chronicle - Lara Becker Liu (04-11-06)
In Rochester, hundreds turn out for march and rally
They came with placards, T-shirts and an immutable grudge against lawmakers who want to criminalize illegal immigration.
Hundreds of people gathered at the federal building Monday afternoon in downtown Rochester as part of a national day of action against a border security bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Rallies were planned in at least 60 U.S. cities Monday; similar protests over the weekend drew hundreds of thousands of people.
The House bill, proposed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., would make it a federal crime to live in this country illegally - or to provide aid, including food and water, to anyone who does. It calls for construction of a 700-mile wall along the Mexican border.
One architect of the House measure, in an interview with The Associated Press, denied that the bill would criminalize people who help illegal immigrants, and he said the protests were really an effort by the “illegal alien lobby” to win government-sanctioned amnesty.
“Amnesty is an affront to American law and America’s tradition of legal immigration,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. “If the protesters really want to honor America’s values, they would stand up to lawbreakers and embrace an enforcement-first approach to fixing our broken system.”
The Senate reached a bipartisan compromise last week that would have given some illegal immigrants a chance for citizenship, but the agreement fell apart Friday.
Protesters, meanwhile, have seized the opportunity to weigh in on the debate and keep pressure on lawmakers, marching in numbers beyond even organizers’ expectations. In Dallas, for example, half a million people turned out on Sunday.
While Rochester’s march drew only a few hundred people, they were nevertheless a passionate bunch, shouting “Amnesty now!” and waving placards with messages such as “Who’s the Immigrant, Pilgrim?”
The crowd assembled at 4 p.m. at the Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building, 100 State St., but the march was delayed until a busload of 50 migrant farmworkers arrived. When they did, wearing bright orange ponchos, the crowd surged forward along State Street to Bausch Street, then to St. Michael’s Church on North Clinton Avenue.
As they walked the route of about two miles, organizers chanted into megaphones and waved U.S. flags.
Maria Chavez, 25, of the Brockport Migrant Education Project, held fast to her student, 16-year-old Juan Santiago of Brockport, whose father, he said, came to the United States illegally but married an American citizen. Both lamented the fate of their less-fortunate friends who risk deportation.
“I just felt heartbroken, to tell you the truth,” said Chavez, a Mexican-American. “My parents at one point in time were immigrants, and if they were now trying to be legal, it would be impossible.”
“It’s not right,” Juan added. “They want to work. They’re not doing nothing wrong. They want for (the children) to go to school and be somebody better - not workers like them.”
The undocumented workers in the crowd - who, as one protester put it, are “all the time looking over (their) back” - showed no fear of being identified and arrested.
“If we don’t get our papers we’ll stay here,” said Isobel Lopez, 41, a veteran apple picker in Albion, Orleans County.
Organizers of the protest, a hastily-put-together affair that involved a coalition of religious, labor, political and service organizations, said they had not gotten a permit for the event. But police escorted the largely peaceful crowd, stopping traffic when necessary and arresting one man, a counterprotester who stood on the lawn of the federal building holding a sign that said “Immigrants Get Out.”
The man was charged with possessing a handgun on federal property, although the gun was legally registered, said police Sgt. Joe Mariconda. Mariconda didn’t release the man’s name but said he was from Ogden.
Once the crowd reached St. Michael’s, speakers mounted a small stage outside to continue the invective against lawmakers and share personal testimonials.
“My name is Stephany Caminero, and my father was taken 20 days ago,” said a 15-year-old. “The only crime he committed was loving his children.”
The girl’s father, Digno Caminero, was to be deported today to the Dominican Republic, according to Stephany.
“All he did was work, come home. No parking tickets, nothing. He was just gone when I got home,” said Stephany.
Organizers said they were pleased with the turnout, which one police officer estimated at 250 people.
What they’re saying
“We don’t want the program they’re trying to establish. We want the rights everyone else has. We don’t want to be second-class citizens.”
Erika Cortes of CITA, an organization whose name translates to Independent Center for Farm Workers, which is based in Albion, Orleans County.
“I’m advocating for the people I’ve worked with for 23 years. It’s so sad. It’s inhumane, the treatment of the people who are the backbone of our country. People have forgotten this country was built on immigrants. We’ve forgotten where we came from. People come here to work and they’re treated like criminals. It’s appalling, and it’s sad.”
Luz Santiago of Pittsford, outreach worker for Rural Opportunities.
“I come here with other friends. We come here for work. (With the pending legislation), we would be taken to jail and can’t do anything. If you’re Mexican, you can’t come into this country any more.”
Eusebio Bautisto, a farmworker in Albion, Orleans County.
“I’m here because I feel that immigrants should have amnesty and rights to a fair wage, just like immigrants in the past. One reason why so many people are crossing the (Mexican) border is because Mexico’s farmers are being put out of business because of NAFTA policies. More people are crossing the border because they’re desperate; they’re just trying to feed their families.”
Sandy Morales, a Rochester native.
“I’m here to support the immigrants. Like the sign says, no human is illegal. If they can come here to work for minimum wage and under poor conditions, they should be able to become citizens. This is a country of immigrants anyway.”
Luisa Carmona of Rochester, a Puerto Rico native who was leading the local march.
“I think that when illegal immigrants come here and expect to have entitlements given to them just as U.S. citizens that it’s totally preposterous. There’s plenty of ways to enter our country legally while respecting our laws, and people who do so end up better in the long run, anyway.”
Erin Carrington, 22, a counterprotester at the rally in Washington, to the Los Angeles Times.
Photo By: Annette Lein