As morning came, we put on our white shirts to represent our unity with undocumented workers. This annual event has become known as the May March. We marched for the immigrants and to unite with all those that were against the new law, Arizona Senate Bill 1070 [SB1070], proposed and signed by Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, which makes those immigrants who do not have an alien registration document guilty of a state crime.
It will also require police officers to question people whose immigration status they deem suspicious, in other words they will profile Latinos. They will arrest those who hire illegal immigrants or day laborers. The effects of this law, which is expected to go into effect in the summer of 2010, were seen immediately throughout Arizona, with many day laborers not showing up at the Home Depots or other places where they would be able to find work, leaving them without a chance of a day’s work and money to buy necessities.
Many of the protesters had participated in the May march of previous years. Assembling at the North Hollywood Metro station, where the Metro Red Line starts and goes down to Union Station at around ten in the morning, it was easy to spot the ones who, just like us, were headed to Downtown Los Angeles, to rally and join the protest. For all of us, it was important to show to California, Arizona, and the rest of the country that this law that allows the arrest of people based on physical is unfair to everyone.
The “Arizona Law”
Gov. Brewer has had a long history of supporting laws that criminalize illegal immigrants. She refused to offer public services and benefits to those who are in Arizona illegally and also ruled it a misdemeanor for those state and local government employees who failed to report immigration law violations while public benefits or services were being administered. Many of us who had been paying attention to the recent news behind this bill knew that we had to take a stand against something that Jan Brewer had mentioned in a statement, that Arizona Senate Bill 1070 was a “way to solve a crisis of illegal immigration that Arizona had not caused or created and that the federal government had refused to fix.”
As a crowd of marchers walked from parked cars, many more joined in that had just gotten down from the Metro Orange Line bus that ends its route at the North Hollywood station. The long escalators that lead to the ticket platform were covered with people that were wearing white tops to protest SB1070. People began to grow impatient, but the majority waited in line to purchase the ticket that would take them to march for immigrants’ rights.
There was fear in the eyes of some of the Metro users when they passed the Sheriff’s Department officers in the ticket and boarding areas, because many who joined with the crowd to protest the bill are undocumented immigrants who live in constant fear that they need to watch their every move. One minute they could be working to support their family, and the next they could be arrested and deported, leaving a family behind to survive on their own.
Elsa Martinez, who wore a white T-shirt with the face of deceased Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, said “Pues mira, yo lo estoy hacienda por mis niños principalmente, porque imaginate que pasen esta ley en California, a mi me llevan, y quien por ellos?,” which translates into “Well look, I am doing this for my kids, because, imagine, they pass this law in California and they take me, who will look out for them and take care of them?”
The sense of community could be felt throughout the ride to downtown Los Angeles, and many were talking about the Arizona law. Conversations got louder and more people got on at every stop. The protestors were easily recognizable because most wore white shirts and carried a hat or baseball cap to cover themselves from the warm sun that was shining on Los Angeles that May 1st. Many of the people also had signs and flags, the flags of the countries that they had left behind in search of a better life and the “American Dream” and also the flag of the United States, a place of opportunity, although an opportunity that was fading away for many of immigrants, including people who were on the train with us.
Most of the commuters could be heard talking in Spanish to people who had just boarded, and no matter how packed the train was, everyone found a way to be able to fit in and make room for more. From the moment people got on, they added even more to the unity that already existed behind the same cause, whether they were there to support family members, friends, or themselves; they were on their way to protest a law that racially profiles Latinos. They protested the inherent unfairness of taking people into custody because of how they look to determine if their “crime” against their host country was the economic necessity of being here illegally to support a family back in their native country.
At various stops, people of all races, cultural backgrounds, and appearances boarded the train, and many of the supporters of the march seemed a bit worried that a SB1070 supporter would get on and start an argument or a fight. Eventually, the first one came along for the ride on the Hollywood/Highland stop. Wearing a blue jacket and having a seemingly calm look on his face, he chose to stand in the middle of the walkway and grab onto the metal bar on top. In a booming voice he said “Why does there have to be so many of them; we should just get rid of them.” Nobody said anything to this and just kept observing him.
Although he seemed to have mental health issues, we recognized that this is the type of racial profiling, discrimination, and rejection that many immigrants receive while they are in the United States.
The 7th Street/Metro Center stop was were the people got off, many by themselves, others, carrying their kids or pushing strollers. It was for those little ones that many were fighting for, so that they could stay in this country with their parents, who may be in danger of deportation, and for those children to have an equal education opportunity so that they can grow and build a future.
As the crowd walked to 7th Street, many cars passed honking and waving, showing their support as well. The crowd grew enthusiastic, and as they received small banners on sticks with the words Si Se Puede and “Yes We Can” from a man that had made hundreds of them at home, they were eager to reach the intersection of 7th Street and Broadway. Once the crowd got closer to the meeting intersection, it was visible how many had come out to support a cause. It was a cause and march that was heard around the country and the world, with rallies in Arizona, New York, Texas, as well as some in Athens and a few in Spanish-speaking countries.
Once the crowd got together and started making its way to Los Angeles City Hall, members of a folkloric group performed Aztec dances, with their leader Doña Maria, chanting to the gods for protection of the people, for justice to be served, and most especially for the people who come to work.
Their colorful outfits included feathers and seashells representing their culture, and many said the “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us; this was our land.”
Jose Chavez, a newspaper vendor, brought his son, Miguelito, and said that he is the future of this country. Si me sacan a mi, mi esposa no va a poder mantenerlos ella sola. Se van a talvez tener que venir conmigo which means “If they kick me out, my wife won’t be able to support them on her own. They would eventually have to come back with me.” Miguelito sat atop the newspaper kiosk where his father works, waving a huge American flag from a stick, observing the crowd covered in white passing by, knowing that he was just like the rest of us, united. Although he is only 7-years-old, he already has an understanding of what the law means, and that his family might be separated because of it.
Gaby Orellana, a John Burroughs High School student, walked with me along the march on that warm, yet breezy Saturday. “It is unfair and unjust how they are treating illegal immigrants in the country. I thought racial profiling ended a long time ago, and here it is back with us, separating families, and throwing hard working people into jail and back into countries where they have no ways of being able to support a family,” she said. As the crowd marched against SB1070, a crowd of about 12 men and women had formed in a corner. They had locked arm in arm, and attracted the crowd’s attention because they wore green T-shirts that said IMMIGRANTE, which means “immigrant” in Spanish, and their faces carried a sense of worry that if the law expands, they could no longer be in this country. Our hearts went out to them, and amongst a sea of white shirts, they stood up for what they were and gave us a bigger reason to keep on marching.
Catherine Carrasco, a Peruvian immigrant also attending John Burroughs High School, mentioned, “This is the country of opportunity, and I am here because I want an education. What can we do? Just raise our voice and try to be heard so that our dreams, like many others’, aren’t crushed, especially for those that have nothing.” She is obtaining her residency status but represented well those students that yearn for a higher education but unfortunately cannot receive it. She kept on walking, and she wore a cap and gown and carried a diploma, representing all the AB 540 students.
As we got closer to reaching City Hall, I mentioned to Gaby Orellana that Gov. Brewer was also behind legislation to “make sure that no public services are being offered to anyone who is in this state [Arizona] illegally,” and she replied with “That is crazy! People should be able to have human rights and services that will help them if they are in danger healthwise or even dying, and this woman is rejecting them as if only citizens could have these rights. What if an illegal immigrant was badly injured and dying, but a doctor could not help him out? That person will either die because that service was rejected, and some don’t go to the doctor for simple emergencies because of the fear that they will be turned in to the government authorities and deported. People would rather bear the pain than be deported. That is sad.”
For many, an immigration reform is the way to go. To have hard-working people deported seems unjust to them and would rather have a controlled way of keeping them in the country.
We had finally reached the ending point of the march. It was around 11:30 in the morning, and from the speakers, music could be heard, ranging from cumbia to merengue to rancheras. The first song that played was by a local group and the chorus could be heard chanting Obama escucha, el pueblo esta en la lucha, “Obama listen, our people are in the fight.”
Many speakers went up to the podium and gave advice to the people on what could be done, such as boycotting anything related to Arizona, including travel to Arizona, products from Arizona, Arizona sports teams, and pretty much anything with Arizona in it. To many that support the boycott, this means that Arizona’s economy will suffer and the downfall will be seen with the lack of immigrants, such as the loss of sales and less workers being available for jobs, causing companies to produce less and suffer.
In the midst of all this, a man carrying a sign sat on the top step facing the podium. He had chosen the spot carefully, as to be close to the Los Angeles police officers who were observing and supervising the crowd, because he probably felt like he needed extra protection. His sign read, “IF YOU ARE HERE ILLEGALLY…GET OUT NOW!!!!”
Tension was felt when people saw this, but fortunately no fights or arguments broke out. Not one of the 60,000 or more attendees did anything but ignore the man. Away from the crowd, some emotions ran high when opposing groups carried signs and exchanged a few words, mainly with students, but were soon separated by patrolling officers.
Finally, it was the turn for Cardinal Roger Mahony and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to take the platform. Ultimately, both publicly “found the law unfair and degrading, and that Arizona should be boycotted by all means.”
With the chant of Si Se Puede the crowd began to leave after a few hours of rallying together. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles [CHIRLA] members who we walked back with kept questioning why should every single immigrant go down if the Arizona law is being aimed to counteract the Mexican drug cartels? Many agreed that it was only set up that way but the major plan is to take out every single illegal immigrant.
Eduardo Menchaca, a college student at Los Angeles Mission College, added “Porque no comienzan con controlar el crimen que hacen los ciudadanos estadounidenses o los que han nacidod aqui? Nos culpan de todo, hasta de quitarles los trabajos. Ellos no harian los trabajos que nuestra gente hace. Y aunque fueran trabajos decentes, mejor los immigrantes los agarran, talvez porque los otros son huevones.” “Why don’t they start by controlling the crimes and misdemeanors committed by the American citizens and the ones that were born here instead? They blame immigrants for everything, but yet they wouldn’t be caught doing the jobs that our people do every day. And even if the jobs are ‘decent’ jobs, the immigrants get them, maybe because the other ones are too lazy to get them.”
Tired faces could be seen as the line was made to buy the tickets to go back. We got on the train, people got off on their stops, and eventually only a few were left that were heading back to the last stop. Once we got off, a few goodbyes were said from people that had just met that had the same purpose on that day, and everyone went their own way. Even if it were only for a few hours that we came together physically, everyone that had attended the May march left with a sense that a duty had been fulfilled, and that while we may not see each other again, whether we are in Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York City, or any other part of the world, our hearts and voices will be behind an important cause until the goal is reached.
Sidebar: Becoming a Citizen
Becoming a U.S. citizen is an impossible dream for many who have immigrated illegally. The process is time-consuming and expensive and beyond the reach of many who were driven from Latin America by economic misfortunes to work in the U.S. as migrant workers or unskilled day laborers. Becoming a citizen also means renouncing one’s former country, a step not all people who work in America want to take. Many just want to make some money to support their families and then move back home.
“If you are in the U.S. in illegal immigration status, you will find it very difficult to obtain U.S. citizenship,” explains David Carnes. “In fact, in some cases it will prove impossible. Even if you are eligible, you may have to wait 15 years or more, most of this time in your home country. In some cases, however, this process can be expedited and it will not be necessary to leave the U.S. The most likely pathway is through marriage to a U.S. citizen.” Another option is to be the parent of a U.S. citizen, meaning a child who was born here. Here are some tips from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
If you entered the U.S. legally but overstayed your visa by more than 180 days, do not leave the U.S. until your permanent residence application is approved and you receive your permanent residence card. If you overstayed your U.S. visa by more than 180 days, you will be subject to a three-year bar to re-entry. If your overstay period was at least one year, you will be subject to a 10-year re-entry bar.
That’s right. If you entered the U.S. illegally, or overstayed your visa, there is a 10-year wait to apply for legal status.
One way to bypass the wait is to join the military, and that option is becoming increasingly popular. Special naturalization procedures apply to those who served on active duty on behalf of the U.S. armed forces during certain military hostilities defined by law. Surviving spouse of U.S. citizens who died during periods of honorable service on active duty are also eligible. Military applicants must also have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years and have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years immediately preceding the date of filing the application.
Other tips for illegal residents who wish to become U.S. citizens: 1. Move back to Mexico. If you voluntarily self-deport, the three and 10 year time bars do not apply. 2. Apply for a for a legal immigration visa at the US Embassy. There are many categories under which you can apply. It helps if you are educated and/or have a valuable skill. Another method is to apply as a legal guest worker, then later adjust to legal resident status. 3. Wait your turn in line for the visa. Some Filipinos wait 22 years for an F4 family immigration visa. 4. Once you have the visa, move to the U.S.
As a Permanent Resident (green card holder), you must continuously stay in the United States for five years to qualify for American citizenship. It costs $985 to apply for a green card, apart from lawyer’s fees, and $370 for an annual renewal.
After five years of living in the US, if you have not committed any crimes or used welfare, you can apply for U.S. Citizenship. It costs $675 to file your application and you must pass a test and go through an interview process. You must be able to read and write in English and answer questions about U.S. history and civics. You must demonstrate “good character.” You will lose your citizenship from your home country.
You may not be able to become a citizen if any of the following circumstances apply:
1. You have been convicted of a crime.
2. You have ever lied to an immigration officer, consular official, or government official.
3. You married solely to obtain residency status.
4. Since becoming a lawful permanent resident, you have been absent from the United States for long periods of time, especially periods over one year.
5. You have ever been arrested.
6. You failed to file an income tax return for any year since becoming a lawful permanent resident.
7. You owe child support
for more information: http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis