Illegal Immigration: Cries For Justice

by  Editor-In-Chief

Around town and around the nation, many voices have been crying out for justice regarding the issues of illegal immigration.

At a massive march on May 1 in Chicago, hundreds of thousands of undocumented illegal aliens and their advocates marched and rallied demanding labor and civil rights, as well as to convince U.S. congressional leaders to give them amnesty for their illegal entries into America.

These Mexican undocumented workers were among many other illegal immigrants who demanded better treatment from the U.S. government and their employers during a rally for immigration reform in Union Park on May 1. Photo by Mary C. Johns

RJ attended the march and interviewed both leaders and marchers. Later, RJ also attended a rally held by a group of ex-offenders and others who protested against the legalization of the illegal immigrants.

Undocumented Workers and their Advocates for Civil Rights
“We didnt come to the United States for a vacation. We come here to work,” a Hispanic man shouted out on a megaphone, to the massive crowd of illegal immigrants and their advocates holding signs, and symbols for their cause at the historical event.

During the Chicago rally in Union Park, the marchers and their advocates called for immigration reform with dignity and justice. They also called for family reunifications, a pathway to citizenship, equal opportunity in education and equal opportunity of labor rights for everyone, including the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the country.

“Almost ten years Im suffering away from my children. Ive been working, paying the taxes. Im working and doing everything as Americans&.Im waiting in this country for nine years. And Im still waiting for them to bring my children. So, we need justice. We need justice today,” declared Arjuna Vallabhaneni, a lady from India seeking asylum since 1997. Vallabhaneni said she fled from her native land after being abused by her husband.

Roxanne Delgado, a young Mexican American protester, had this to say to Residents Journal at the rally:
“Im here because people have rights just like everyone else. Im a citizen. My mother came here illegally, so did my father, so thats why Im here supporting for my people. These are my people and I think its more than immigrants. I think immigrants are being used as scapegoats, and I think that corporations should be held accountable, as well as lobbying should be outlawed. So, its really a government thing, not really an immigrant thing. I think they pick on immigrants and women on welfare for the reasons that are bigger than us. So, were the easiest to pick on, so they pick on us,” she said.

Yolanda Delgado, Roxannes mother, who became an American citizen “about six years ago,” said she agreed with the protesters demands because they could help people like her father, who migrated to the country with her and her siblings more than 65 years ago.

“Well, Im all for it because my father came here as a guest worker back in 1940 and he brought us here. So, Im all for it”, she proclaimed.

A Mexican-born protester from Texas, who came to town for a cousins wedding, told RJ during the rally in the park that he and his family came across the border for solely employment purposes: “They want to treat us like criminals and were not criminals. We come to work&Let us come in to work. Thats it,” he softly said.

Curly Cohen, a person of European descent working with Affordable Power to the People, disagreed with the proposal to build a wall or fence along the Mexican border.

“Were human beings,” Cohen said. “First they tear down the Berlin Wall and everybody was for it, and now they want to build one? What kind of place is this? I think America should get on the justice track.”

Shem Bad was protesting the U.S. House of Representatives’ recent passage of a bill making it a federal crime to offer assistance or services to illegal immigrants.

Bad, an educator with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said he didnt want to go to jail for doing his job helping students.

Bad, who is the progeny of an illegal Chinese immigrant, added that people need to stop defining an American “by skin color or by where they were born or by what language they speak.” He also added that the country should define citizenship by ones contributions to the nation.

A middle-aged white man who requested to remain anonymous told RJ during the rally that the event was a chance for him to strictly protest against the current U.S. administration.

“I’m protesting because I think that we need to get rid of George W. Bush, because he’s dangerous. He lied us into the War with Iraq,” the man said. “I protest every day against the Bush regime. I won’t stop until he’s in jail for the rest of his life.”

Eugene Paxton, a 44-year-old African American Chicagoan who was among the marchers, told RJ at the rally that “even though the economy is messed up with them being here illegally…they’re human beings just like we are.

“Let them work, and give them a green card. Even though I’m not working, I do work on the side…So, let them work,” he added.

One Hispanic male speaker proclaimed over a loudspeaker during the rally, “We also are fighting for this nation…out there in Iraq, losing their lives for this nation,” which he suggested legislators should remember in the upcoming elections because “Veterans do vote,”?he said.

People on both sides of the illegal immigration debate have blamed the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted into law under the Clinton Administration, for the surge in illegal migration to the nation over the Mexican border.

Jessica Aranda, Executive Director for the Chicago based Latino Union, agreed with that notion during a May phone interview with RJ after the event: “I think a lot of times folks look to blame undocumented folks for bad conditions in the workplace, saying that they’re lowering wages.

“But the way that we look at it, and something that hasn’t been part of the debate a whole lot, is the fact that NAFTA, when it was passed in the early ‘90s, displaced so many jobs not only from this country going to South and Central America, but also displaced lots of workers in their own countries and kind of forced them to migrate to the United States,” she said.

Aranda, whose group works with Chicago day laborers, said about 250 advocacy groups, including churches and other religious institutions, unions and community organizations, took part in organizing the May 1 march and rally.

She added that people from throughout the Midwest took part in the historic event, coming from Chicago and surrounding suburbs such as Elgin and Aurora, and from as far as Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

Aranda said about 700,000 people marched in Chicago on May 1. She said many were protesting U.S. House Bill 4437, which “basically would criminalize undocumented immigrants and any group who worked with those folks (if passed).”

In addition to the “lots of Mexican folks” who attended the march and rally, Aranda said that there were legal and illegal immigrants from Guatemala, Poland, Korea, the Palestinian territories, China, and Ireland.Muslims reportedly joined the day’s movement “to demand fairness, dignity and an end to the hypocrisy that ignores illegal immigration when it’s convenient but chooses to crack down harshly on it when it’s expedient,” according to the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago in a document e-mailed to RJ prior to the event.

“This growing movement is no longer just about undocumented laborers. It is about all Americans, whether immigrants or their children and grandchildren,” the council stated. The group represents 50 mosques, and Islamic centers, schools, and organizations with a cross-section of over 400,000 Muslim Americans throughout the Chicago area.

The Chicago Minuteman Project & Voices Of The Ex-offenders
On May 11, members of the Chicago Minuteman Project and Voices Of The Ex-Offenders (VOTE) held a joint press conference at New Hope Lutheran Church, 64th Street and Washtenaw Avenue, to publicly announce their opposition to the legalization of the millions of undocumented aliens.(

Voices of the Ex-Offenders member Mark Carter talks to news reporters in early May about his thoughts on the issue of illegal immigration as Rick Biesada of the Minuteman Project (left) and another concerned citizen look on and listen. Photo by Mary C. Johns

Rick Biesada, who said he is the cofounder of the one-year-old Chicago Minuteman Project, told RJ just before the press conference that his organization “is a citizens- watch group, no different than a neighborhood CAPS program,” whose mission he said was “to educate the public about illegal immigration.”

Biesada said some of his groups biggest concerns about the illegal immigration debate were, free education for undocumented children, the prospect that many of the illegal aliens may have unchecked diseases, and the inequality of health care treatment between American veterans and some of the illegal immigrants needing medical assistance.

Biesada said that all illegal aliens should be sent back home with their children, and then try to come in the country the proper and lawful way with a Visa.

“The Visa guarantees a background check. It guarantees your health, so you dont come in here with a contagious disease. It guarantees a sponsor so youre not a burden on the American taxpayer. In other words, you wont just come over here and get on the welfare rolls because public funds in this country are meant for American citizens, not for illegal aliens,” he said.Rick Jones, a board member of the Chicago Minuteman Project, said his organization didnt protest against illegal immigration prior to that date because several congressional leaders led him and others to believe that the issue was being handled.

“I think many of us saw the problem brewing,” Jones said. “But it kind of takes time for things to tell.”

VOTE member Paul McKinley said illegal immigration was not an ex-offender issue, nor a Minuteman issue, but “a national security issue.” He also said American laws should be enforced and that people who break the law should be treated equally.

“We dont want people in our country breaking the law, and well go to jail if we break the law,” McKinley said. “Dont you think that the law should be equal? This is the question that the media never ask. The media never ask ;Why shouldnt the law be equal?’ If they break the law, shouldnt they do the five years instead of just going right back to wherever they come from? Naw! You want to send us to the penitentiary and give them our jobs,” he said.

McKinley also took offense to Mexican President Vicente Foxs comments last year that Mexicans “are doing the work that not even Blacks want to do in the United States.”

“Let’s get something straight,” McKinley said. “President Fox said that the Mexican community takes jobs that Blacks wouldn’t take. First of all, that is offensive and defiantly disrespectful and racist. Second of all, what jobs that poor Black folks won’t take if not given a chance by not being discriminated against?” he said.

Oscar Worrill, founder of Concerned Citizens of Chicago, also attended the press conference. Worrill talked about the government’s failure to enforce the law, unfair employment practices towards African American citizens, and inequalities in the treatment between African American citizens and working illegal immigrants.

“We have been locked out of the employment industry from the unions to the small businesses in the communities,” Worrill said.

“And then, Arabs own and operate small grocery stores and disrespect our people. So, from a Black perspective, and from a human rights perspective, and from a United States Constitution perspective, the government is not enforcing their own law.”

RJ asked the groups at the press conference if illegal immigrant women should be separated from their children who are born in America and are therefore citizens.

VOTE member Paul McKinley replied, “Either they allow their children to stay in America because they are American citizens, or either they can take their children and go back to whatever country they come from. But don’t try to make a double standard for Black women. When Black women are arrested, they take their children.”

Minutes prior to the press conference, Biesada denied that children of illegal immigrants born on American soil were really American citizens, although the U.S. Constitution states that anyone born on American soil is automatically a citizen.

“That’s disputable,” Biesada said. “That’s just a loose interpretation of an activist judge.”

RJ asked the press conference attendees how the government would fund the groups’ proposal to deport millions of illegal immigrants. One of the Minutemen, who identified himself only as ‘Mike,’ said, “If they don’t have the employers hire them, theyll be forced to go back.”

VOTE member Mark Carter expressed disdain for one African American leader who has supported the immigration rights marches.

“Its total disrespectful for Rev. [Jesse] Jackson, and the rest of those people, to come out and support an amnesty for the illegal aliens, and never come out and support amnesty for the ex-offender community,” Carter said.

The host of the press conference, the Rev. Anthony Williams, a Libertarian candidate against incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2) and the pastor at St. Stephens Lutheran Church, said that the anti-immigration groups would soon declare a mass march.

“But at the same time, we are not going to preach hate. Were not going to bash anyone,” Williams said.

Congressional Backers of Legalization
At the rally in Union Park, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-4) said he was in favor of legalization of the illegal immigrants and disputed the notion that illegal immigrants dont contribute to the country.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-4) strongly expressing his support for the undoctumented workers and other illegal immigrants during the rally at Union Park on May 1, 2006, as U.S. Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-5) waits for his turn to speak. Photo by Mary C. Johns

“They say that illegals dont pay taxes,” Gutierrez said.

“Today in our Armed Services, there are tens of thousands of immigrants that are not citizens of the United States of America. The first casualties in the conflicts of Iraq were immigrants to this country. They were not citizens and they paid the highest tax that anyone can pay. They paid the tax of their life and their limbs to make this country better,” Gutierrez declared to the enthusiastic crowd.

Gutierrez also told the marchers that “the eight million immigrants to this country that are legally registered with our government, were going to turn them into citizens of the United States.”

He encouraged his colleagues in Congress to either “put the resources forward to support the 12 million undocumented immigrants or to do the right thing and legalize them.”
At the end of his speech, Gutierrez asked, “What would the city of Chicago be without the immigrants that are gathered here today?” He led the marchers in a chant “Today we march. Tomorrow we vote.”

U.S. Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-5), a former Chicago Housing Authority Board member, and his federal colleague Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9) also spoke at the rally.

“The debate about immigration was to honor our values, not to dehumanize and not to divide but to unite and to bring a common mission,” said Emmanuel. The congressman said he has over 150,000 immigrants in his district. Emmanuel also announced that he was in favor of raising the minimum wage and universal health care for children and working people.

U.S. Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL) encouraged those in attendance seeking American citizenship to become loyal citizens, “where they too can share in supporting the American flag and pledge allegiance to that flag, and make sure that they are fighting on behalf of this country.” He also pledged to the illegal immigrants “that we in Washington will continue to hear your voices.”

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