Page One

Berkeley Joins Nation in Day of Action for Immigration Rights

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday April 11, 2006

Hundreds of demonstrators flocked to Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley Monday to protest proposed federal immigration reform and to shore up support for immigrant rights. 

Students and representatives from several campus groups mounted the steps of Sproul Hall with flags and banners splayed, demanding “amnistia,” amnesty, for all immigrants. The demonstration was part of a nationwide Day of Action spearheaded by a grassroots organization based in Washington, D.C. 

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) also staged a protest Monday. SJP initially reserved the plaza to commemorate the 1948 massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin, but joined with immigrant-rights activists when they learned of the national movement, an SJP member told the Daily Planet. 

“We were both supportive of each other’s causes so we decided to combine,” said Zaynah Hindi. 

Immigrant rights demonstrators chanted in Spanish and English and wielded signs that said “No anti-immigration/Jim Crow laws,” “We are all Americans” and “No human being is illegal.” 

After an initial microphone snafu, speakers denounced the proposed bill, which would reinforce U.S.-Mexico border security and usher in a worker permit program.  

“There is no such thing as an illegal,” said Hatem Bazian, UC Berkeley instructor in Near Eastern Studies, who spoke at the rally on behalf of Palestinian and immigration rights. “At one point, all of us in this country were illegals.” 

Yael Martinez, a native of a Venezuela and a UC Berkeley graduate student in social work, echoed his concern. 

“Immigrants make up a large portion of the workforce and without them our economy would crumble. We’re all immigrants,” she said. “I’m an immigrant and I feel we should have better laws to protect all human rights.” 

Monday’s protest attracted UC Berkeley students, teachers, employees, and unaffiliated supporters including 9-year-old Pablo Hijuera, who held a sign that said, “Immigrants are not criminals” and told the Daily Planet he was fighting for his rights. 

Oakland, Concord, San Francisco, Sacramento and cities nationwide also hosted protests. At press time, the New York Times estimated that hundreds of thousands of protesters came out in more than 100 cities. 

In December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it a felony both to live in the country illegally and to abet an illegal immigrant. The bill also green-lighted 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.  

A less draconian version of the legislation stalled in the Senate Friday, despite bipartisan agreement over multiple amendments including a guest worker program that would create 325,000 new visas for unskilled laborers—a measure backed by President Bush—a track for immigrants to earn U.S. citizenship and tighter border security.  

Many protestors said they support amnesty and nothing less.  

“Everyone who’s here should have the right to stay here,” said Yvette Felarca, California Coordinator for the affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary, in a phone interview Monday. “What the Congress has been debating is a new form of racism and we’re not going to stand for that.” 

Several demonstrators came out in favor of the DREAM Act, a bill introduced in the Senate in November that would facilitate the ease with which immigrants gain access to higher education.  

A handful of counter-protestors made an appearance at Sproul Plaza Monday. Several members of the Berkeley College Republicans brandished signs calling illegal immigrants “criminals” and beseeching President Bush to crackdown on immigration. 

“This is about protecting our borders and protecting our national security,” said Andrew Quinio, news editor of the conservative campus publication the California Patriot and BCR member. “Legal immigration is absolutely necessary. We can’t give special passes to people who have broken the law. I support a wall.” 

The peaceful protest was topped off by a march, intermittent drizzles notwithstanding. 

Felarca said another demonstration is scheduled for May 1. 

U.S. legislators will not consider proposed immigration reform over the next two weeks because they are on recess.