Demonstrators Call for Immigration Rights

By Judith Scherr
Friday May 04, 2007

Their signs declared unity in the face of government raids and called for amnesty for immigrants without documents, and their chants affirmed “Sí, se puede!” (Yes, we can!) as May 1 demonstrators marched through Berkeley streets, gathering forces before moving to larger demonstrations in Oakland and San Francisco.  

At 10:30 a.m., a group of about 60 demonstrators led by representatives of the UC Berkeley student government left a larger group that had gathered with signs and leaflets at Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way and headed down Telegraph to meet up with Oakland Technical High School students and march with them to the Oakland Federal Building.  

“The fact that the ASUC [Associated Students of the University of California] voted to lead the demonstration shows the popularity of the immigrants’ rights movement,” said Dimitri Garcia, an ASUC senator who carried the ASUC yellow and blue flag down Telegraph, under the watchful eyes of about a dozen Berkeley and UC police. 

Some 75 demonstrators stayed behind at Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue to sing, chant and encourage others to stay out of class and join the festivities. People stopped in groups of twos or threes and the crowd grew. Cheers rang out when the gathering was joined by some 50 members of Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA), who had marched up to campus from St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley.  

Father Stephan of St. Joseph’s was among them, carrying a sign that read “Just Immigrant Reform Now.” He told the Daily Planet that he’s heard too many stories from friends and parishioners to ignore the fears of immigrants. 

He tells this story: “A friend from Mexico, living on the Peninsula, was studying at two o’clock in the morning when ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and homeland security came into his home and threw him in jail for two weeks.” The man was charged with terrorism, despite his valid documents that included a passport. 

It appears that the problem may have stemmed from the fact that the young man had played volleyball in school and had traveled to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where his passport was stamped with the name of those countries, Fr. Stephan said.  

“The charges were dropped, but he lost his job while he was in jail. They still have his passport, so now he feels like a real illegal,” the priest said. 

On campus, not too far from the demonstrators a group of young men were gathered at the Young Republicans’ table “We’re happy for the smaller participation than last year,” said Ross Lingenfelder, president of the club, speaking as an individual. Lingenfelder said he thought the smaller participation was a reflection of the spread of Republican values.  

Derek Yee, also a Young Republican, chided the demonstrators for asking for in-state tuition and loans for undocumented immigrant students. “We need to secure our borders,” added Yee, also underscoring that he spoke for himself and not the club. 

At around 11 a.m. the group at Bancroft and Telegraph moved to Sproul Plaza, where their numbers grew to more than 300. There the day was blessed with an Aztec Dance that was followed by a rally.  

Demonstrators’ demands included opposition to the Dream Act, which denies undocumented students financial aid, according to Ruben Cabrera, one of the organizers of the rally and a member of Xinaxtli, which Cabrera said means “sea that grows.” 

Around 1:30 p.m., a group of about 150 demonstrators arrived at City Hall, having picked up some Berkeley High students on the way. There, they were greeted by Mayor Tom Bates. “This is not OK what is happening in this country,” Bates said. “It is not OK for children to be taken out of school [by ICE]. It is not OK for people to be taken out of their jobs.”  

Before the protesters headed to BART to join the San Francisco rally, the mayor told them that in 1971 Berkeley was declared a sanctuary city, a safe place for immigrants with and without documentation. That was renewed in 1986 and on May 22, Bates said, the City Council would reaffirm that status.