St. Paul rally decries U.S. immigration bills

Demonstrators were protesting proposed U.S. legislation that would classify illegal immigrants as felons.

Lily Langerud

As rallies for immigrants’ rights occurred nationwide, the Twin Cities proved to be no exception Sunday.

About 40,000 demonstrators marched from the Cathedral of St. Paul to the Capitol for the Minnesota March for Immigration with Dignity.

Demonstrators said they opposed federal legislation that would classify illegal immigrants as felons. Some carried signs with messages in opposition of proposed amendments to immigration laws, such as U.S. HR4437, a bill that would strengthen the enforcement of immigration laws.

Teresa Ortiz, a volunteer with the Resource Center of the Americas at Sunday’s march, said the legislation in Congress is terrible for immigrants.

“It’s a way of really intimidating people,” she said.

Ortiz said that as the demographic makeup of the United States changes, there is a degree of fear surrounding immigrants.

“It’s the same kind of fear that in the past did not allow African Americans to have civil rights in this country.”

Louis Mendoza, chairman of the Chicano studies department, said he attended the event with hopes that the public will see support from a diverse community for adopting humane immigration legislation.

Mendoza said immigrants are misperceived as taking advantage of social services.

“The governor of Minnesota has participated in disseminating misinformation showing (illegal) immigrants being a drain on the economy,” he said.

Mendoza said most immigrants are taxed on their payrolls, and end up giving more than they take.

A guest worker program for illegal immigrants, called for by President George W. Bush, was rejected in the House on Sunday. But a House bill passed last December would define illegal immigrants in the United States as felons.

Demonstrators at the event said they hoped politics could be set aside to find a humane solution for the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

“I think it’s really important for both political sides to put aside the partisan politics and understand they need to create a solution that’s just and fair,” Mendoza said.

Martha Ockenfels-Martinez, a Chicano studies major and board member of the La Raza Student Cultural Center, said she came to the event to show her support.

She said she became involved with La Raza after connecting with a friend over the closing of the General College.

“The General College statistically lets in a lot of inner-city students, rural students and students of color,” she said. “It opens the door to these students because of the inadequacy of the K-12 system.”

Ockenfels-Martinez said the closing of the General College also closed many doors for

immigrants. She said that because the United States was founded by immigrants, anti-immigrant legislation is hypocritical.

Mirta Carreno, an 18-year-old who said she works full time, came to the march wearing a T-shirt bearing the phrase “Soy trabajodor, no criminal” (I am a worker, not a criminal) like many other demonstrators.

She said an important issue for her is workers’ rights. “(The shirt) represents that we come to work, that we’re not criminals,” she said.

Across the street, Javier Morillo, president of the Service Employees International Union Loca l 26, said he came to the march to represent 5,000 janitors and security guards that the group organizes.

“Most of our members are immigrants,” he said. “They work really hard and they come to this country to make a better life for themselves.”

Morillo said immigrants were being made into scapegoats for the country’s problems.

“We’re doing jobs that are available – we’re not taking jobs away,” he said.

As the march to the Capitol began, a man in the middle of the street carried a sign that read, “We do the hardest, dirtiest jobs. We receive the lowest pay. We DO NOT DESERVE to be called criminals.”

Sharon Decker, a 56-year-old consultant from Minneapolis, stood on the sidewalk watching the march. She said she attended the event because her Korean daughter inspired her to get involved with immigrants’ rights.

“I’m so glad to see there’s such an orderly crowd,” Decker said. “This is a group of people that work very hard and deserve respect.”