Friday, March 24, 2006

AIN'T GONNA TAKE IT NO MORE


Thousands of people filled the streets of Milwaukee Thursday for what was billed as “A Day without Latinos” to protest efforts in Congress to target undocumented workers.

The title of the demonstration is borrowed from the 2004 mockumentary “A Day Without a Mexican,” which considers what would happen to California if all Latinos there suddenly disappeared.

The protest concept also borrows from “Day of Absence,” a celebrated 1965 play by the black playwright Douglas Turner Ward, in which all black people mysteriously vanish from a Southern town, leaving work to be done by others.

The article below is from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Thousands march for immigrants
'A Day Without Latinos' seeks to flex political muscle in divisive debate

By MARK JOHNSON and LINDA SPICE

In one of Milwaukee's largest demonstrations in recent years, a mile-long swath of peaceful protesters marched into the city's downtown Thursday chanting, "¡Sí, se puede!" ("Yes, we can!"), carrying Mexican and American flags and signs condemning what they called "anti-immigrant" legislation.

Hundreds of students took the day off school; businesses around southeastern Wisconsin closed; and thousands of workers left their jobs in support of the event billed as "A Day Without Latinos."

Although march organizers put the crowd at 30,000, Milwaukee police estimated that there were between 10,000 and 15,000 marchers, said spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz. She said there were no arrests.

The march, which culminated in a 90-minute rally in Zeidler Park, followed a similar event two weeks ago in Chicago that drew a crowd of up to 100,000 people.

"This is a historic day," declared Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an organization devoted to immigrant and worker rights issues.

"We have people from all walks of life. We have teachers. We have doctors. We have professionals. And, best of all, children. We wanted to recognize the workers who left their jobs today. There has been a strong show of solidarity," she said.

The event underscored both the growing political muscle of Latinos, America's fastest-growing minority, and the divisiveness of immigration issues in the post-9-11era.

One of the targets of Thursday's protest was a sweeping federal bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) that would keep illegal immigrants in jail until they are processed for deportation, increase penalties for improper entry into the United States, and provide mandatory minimum sentences for illegal immigrants convicted of re-entering the U.S.

Several of the speakers Thursday singled out Sensenbrenner for criticism, including Sheila Cochran of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, who called the bill "wrong-spirited, wrongheaded and just plain wrong."

Xavier Marquez, president of the Racine group Students United for Immigrant Rights, called Sensenbrenner's bill "racist and divisive."

In a statement released later in the day, Sensenbrenner said, "The illegal alien rally held in Milwaukee today was an impressive show of force. But I do not believe that illegal aliens should receive legal government documents such as driver's licenses."

He said many people "have tried to confuse the difference between legal and illegal immigration," and added that putting illegal immigrants on a path toward citizenship "would be a slap in the face to all those who have followed the law and have come to America legally."

As the marchers were gathering, the Milwaukee Common Council voted 11-1 to oppose Sensenbrenner's bill. Instead, they called on Congress to approve an immigration reform bill that would help illegal immigrants attain legal status, expand temporary work visas and tighten border security.

The House passed Sensenbrenner's bill. Both that measure and competing legislation sponsored by U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) are awaiting Senate action.

Two Wisconsin measures also drew the ire of speakers at the rally, including a law signed two weeks ago by Gov. Jim Doyle that forces applicants for state driver's licenses to present proof of legal residency. The second measure, if approved and signed by the governor, would deny undocumented immigrants access to school lunches for their children, public medical services and public defenders in court.

A community coalition

The march and rally stitched together a coalition of political leaders, including Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and state Rep. Pedro Colón (D-Milwaukee), as well as labor unions, business groups and religious leaders.

"I am a third-generation Mexican-American. I am not an undocumented immigrant, but I strongly support my undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters in their struggle for justice and their equal rights," said Marquez, the leader of Students United for Immigrant Rights.

"On the Statue of Liberty it says, 'Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor yearning for liberty,' and that's why we're here," said Michael Rosen, president of the local union representing teachers at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

He vowed, "We will not allow George Bush, we will not allow Congressman Sensenbrenner to pit one part of the working class against another part of the working class."

Milwaukee School Board member Jennifer Morales called on all members of the school community "to oppose any law that makes criminals of children." She encouraged school employees to continue to provide services children need, such as food, health care and education.

The march and rally drew many families.

Angel Silva, 13, missed classes at Bruce Guadalupe Middle School to attend the rally with his family, saying, "We're only students. We're not terrorists. We want to get our education and go on to be a good person and live our life well."

His younger brother, Marc Anthony DeLeon, 9, said he opposes the bill "that any immigrant children they can't have lunch at the schools. And we don't think that's right."

The boys' mother, Magdalena DeLeon, 33, of Milwaukee, is a fifth-generation Mexican-American whose family originally immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico. She said she discussed with her children the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

"The United States of America was built and established for the freedom of people," she said. "We have to be united as one, liberty and justice for all mankind."

The signs the marchers carried drew heavily on emotion and appealed to values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

A large cloth banner said, "Open the doors to citizenship. Immigration is an American experience." A sign showed a photograph of a child wearing a red graduation cap and gown, with the caption, "I'm not a criminal." Another sign said, "You let us fight and die for the country, but we're still not called American."

Several of the speakers were children, including Samantha Pastrana, who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

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