The Daily Northwestern: Residents rally against Arizona immigration act

The Daily Northwestern: Residents rally against Arizona immigration act
by Kris Ann Bonifacio
May 5th, 2010

Evanston residents joined Chicago crowds last week to protest Arizona’s controversial new immigration law and to pressure lawmakers and President Barack Obama for immigration reform.

Rachel Heuman, head of the Evanston-based Immigrant Advocacy Project, said members of her group attended immigration rallies throughout the state April 29 and May 1.

“The basic goal for a lot of these rallies was to pressure these representatives to lead the way in immigration reform,” Heuman said. “Even Senator (Richard) Durbin, who has promised to do that, has become very silent, leaving a lot of us feeling very betrayed.”

The issue of immigration heated up after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, which gives police the authority to detain anyone whom they suspect is an undocumented immigrant and to charge immigrants who are not carrying proper documentation. Following the bill’s signing April 23, various community organizations gathered to protest what they say is a law that endorses racial profiling.
At Wrigley Field, the United Front of Immigrants organized a demonstration to boycott the baseball series between the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks. Groups such as the March 10 Committee, the Justice Mission and the Immigrant Youth Justice League joined the rally.

Carlos Perez, one of the founders of the March 10 Movement and the Chicago representative for Boycott Arizona Movement, said the primary purpose of the demonstration was to pressure Diamondbacks’ Managing General Owner Ken Kendrick to make a statement against the bill.

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but the Kendrick family has contributed heavily to the state’s Republican Party and also to the Republican National Committee,” Perez said. “Governor Brewer has a definite connection with the ownership of the Diamondbacks, so that’s why we decided to stage the boycott.”
He said the boycott was successful, because Kendrick issued a statement against the bill the following day.
Two days after the Wrigley Field demonstration, a reported 100,000 people gathered at Union Park and Daley Plaza for the annual May Day rally. Stephen Smith, campaign manager for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the number of participants increased from the past few years, and the tone of the rally also changed.

“There was a sense of definitive action this year,” Smith said. “There were young people who were risking themselves by declaring their undocumented status publicly. Instead of just speeches, labor and public officials were asked to make a commitment to be willing to engage in civil disobedience and be arrested when the time comes, for the sake of immigration reform.”

He said although the Arizona law fueled a lot of the outrage and the sense of action, the rally was specifically devoted to families in the process of being deported.

Evanston resident Mario Venegas, who immigrated from Chile years ago, said he attended the rallies because he wants to help raise awareness about the realities of immigration. He said he hopes people will realize many immigrants, undocumented or not, are simply trying to make a living.
“These people are working and paying taxes,” Venegas said. “They are not criminals but are being treated like criminals. … If we have to deport everyone who was undocumented, this country would collapse.”
Perez and Smith both acknowledged Chicago’s importance in the national immigration reform movement. Prominent political figures such as U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Rev. Jesse Jackson attended the Chicago May Day rallies. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and ICIRR Executive Director Josh Hoyt participated in civil disobedience demonstrations outside the White House on May 1.

Smith said the goal of the protest was to create a sense of urgency with the issue, pressing Congress to push immigration reform to the forefront of its agenda.

“The question here is how do we fix a system that’s separating 11 million from their families every day, while the rest of us can feel assured knowing the people we love are going to be there when we get home,” he said. “They don’t have that luxury. We’re committing a grievous, immoral act here.”