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by Jennaya Dunlap
Sunday, May. 03, 2009 at 7:11 PM
Riverside, CA (May 1, 2009) – Twenty eight groups from all over the Inland Empire —immigrant rights groups, unions, workers, students, clergy, and human rights activists— united today to call for fair, comprehensive reform to end abuses against immigrants, workers, and their families. Students kicked off the march with a traditional ritual at UCR’s Bell Tower, and then joined supporters from Riverside and San Bernardino counties at Cesar Chavez Community Center to continue their journey to City Hall.
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The march concluded with a program and celebration near the Martin Luther King Jr. statue at City Hall. Live music from Son Real accompanied the march and Mula, a local Latin-ska band, greeted the marchers as they arrived. Speakers addressed the need for reform to support immigrants and workers, as well as the continuing raids, deportations, and separations of immigrant families.
María Harte, a Winchester mother who emigrated from Portugal thirty-six years ago, spoke of how current immigration policies torn apart her family. Her brother, a father of six children, was given notice of deportation for a misdemeanor committed thirteen years ago, for which he had already served time. To avoid the trauma of a raid, he turned himself in and was deported to Mexico.
"Removing a pillar of our family, such as Luis, has been devastating and led to a heart broken, emotionally drained atmosphere in our once happy home," said Harte, calling for an end to the separation of families by brutal immigration enforcement tactics currently in place.
Another speaker in today's program, a student from Rubidoux High School, spoke about the DREAM Act and the way its passage would change the future of students like her. "It would be such a great opportunity for us to prove to this country that we have talent to offer other than the usual stereotypes," she said. "All I need is the opportunity."
Over the past several months, Border Patrol and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the Inland Empire reached a new peak in their reckless abuse of human rights and violations of basic civil liberties, targeting neighborhoods, day laborer corners, bakeries, bus stations, and even people simply leaving a hospital or grocery store.
In Riverside, police and Border Patrol raided a Latino neighborhood, terrifying residents to the point that they feared leaving their homes even to buy groceries. Local activists witnessed clear evidence of racial profiling, as immigrants were specifically targeted for arrest for minor offenses and handed over to Border Patrol.
Inland Empire communities and members of the May Day Coalition called on President Obama to work toward immediate immigration reform that includes human rights for all immigrants; ending the raids and deportations that are tearing apart hundreds of families and stopping racist profiling. Additionally, participants called on the US Senate and the House of Representatives to pass legislation on the Employee Free Choice Act that would allow workers the right to organize and have better protections at work.
"We are not just marching now, but will continue our efforts day by day to build unity, to register people to vote, and to help them naturalize and get citizenship," said José Calderón, a professor from Pitzer College.
Calderón, a local leader and organizer in the region, addressed the crowds on the issue of cultural unity. "Through these marches we are working to build unity between groups, to not allow ourselves to aim our anger and frustrations at each other in this time of economic crisis," he continued.
"I am proud to be part of an effort that is bringing together students, unions, community-based organizations, and coalitions throughout the Inland Empire, across racial, gender and class lines,” concluded Calderón.
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