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A Day of Immigrant Action

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday May 02, 2006

The conch shells resounding and the flags raised in unison on the Sproul Hall steps at noon Monday signaled a day of action for a new civil rights movement. 

Students, workers, and children from UC Berkeley and elsewhere joined the May 1 national boycott to support immigrant rights. 

As they chanted, “We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us,” they were joined by hundred of thousands of protesters across the nation who all demanded justice from racial discrimination, exploitation, and unfair i mmigration policies. 

Members of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights from Oakland, who called upon members of Congress and the administration to “stop masquerading immigration ‘reform’ proposals such as HR 4437 and the compromise bills p resented in the Senate as immigration reform,” came to the rally. 

After the rally on campus, hundreds of participants marched through the streets of downtown Berkeley. 

Erica Sanchez, a UC student and child of immigrants, chanted, “Se ve, se sient e, el pueblo esta presente,” translated as, “You see it, you feel it, the people are here.” 

“Our economy is built on slave labor. We have to stop the abuse of immigrant workers,” she said.  

Hilda Suarez, who had not gone to work at the Gilman Grill that day came with her nephew, Roger Magdaleno, whose T-shirt read: “If I am illegal, so is the terminator.” 

“I was able to miss work and come here today because my owners supported us. They have closed down the grill for a day. I think it is time for us to stand up. This is history in the making and we will not be defeated,” Suarez said. 

Civil rights activist Munigya, who spoke on behalf of the African People’s Revolution Party, assured those present that the “conscious progressive Revolutionary African Na tion stands with the immigration rights movement.” 

“This country was formed out of the illegality of people coming across borders that did not belong to them,” Munigya said. “The African people are the second illegal immigrants to come to the United Stat es by virtue of being stolen property. The sons of daughters of Colombus were not afraid, and nor shall we be.” 

UC student Annabele Paez spoke on behalf of the Coalition of Undocumented Students. 

“Justice has been denied to thousands of undocumented students who want to pursue their college education even after they were brought into this country by their parents at an early age with or without their consent,” she said. “The reality is that upon graduation these students face the fact that they cannot receive federal or state financial aid, they cannot work legally or obtain a drivers license.” 

Almost 40 percent of all undocumented students live in California, according to event organizers. Paez stressed the importance of supporting the Dream Act whic h paves the way for legal status and eventual citizenship for immigrant youth. Under the Dream Act, immigrant students who are long-term residents of this country can graduate from high school, pursue their education and on completion of two years in coll ege or the military become eligible to apply for legal residency. 

Ronald T. Takaki, a professor of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, told those present that the struggle of the one million undocumented Asian immigrants was a struggle for all. “And in the sa me way, your struggle is also our struggle,” he said. 

Takaki added that the immigration reforms needs to go to the source of the problem. “Most importantly NAFTA needs to be reformed,” he said. “Under NAFTA 1.5 million Mexican farmers were driven into ba nkruptcy.” 

Mayoral candidate Zachary Runningwolf was also present at the rally to show his support. 

“The demonstrators who are here today are not immigrants, they are indigenous people,” he told The Planet.  

Prof. Carlos Munoz, Jr. from UC Berkeley’s D epartment of Ethnic Studies, had flown in for the rally after speaking on immigration rights in New York that morning. 

“It was incredible,” he said. “There were more than 500,000 demonstrators on Broadway supporting the end of war and immigrant rights. I t feels great to be part of something this big.” 

Berkeley Police Officer Ed Galvan said the police reported no problem’s during the May Day march, which started from the UC Berkeley campus, proceeded west on Bancroft Way, then turned north on Shattuck Av enue before heading west again on University Avenue. 

“They walked along University to Sixth Street, where we had set up a line,” Galvan said. “They sat down for ten to fifteen minutes and heard from a couple of speakers before they dispersed.” 

Galvan sa id about half the marchers went on to the BART station, where they boarded trains for San Francisco. 

The California Highway Patrol kept traffic from entering the city from Interstate 80 at the University interchange, and cars headed toward the freeway al ong University were diverted north at Sixth Street to Gilman. 

Irene Leja, who had boycotted her cleaning jobs that day, brought her daughter Briana to the Sproul Plaza rally and march.  

“We don’t have any papers,” Leja said. “But we are not doing any harm either. We pay taxes, then why shouldn’t we get benefits? Don’t our children deserve a good life too.”””