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'We produce the wealth! We demand our rights!'
Rallies in California back fight of immigrant workers
BY DEBORAH LIATOS
More than 1,000 people marched in San Jose, California, demanding the right to obtain drivers licenses. "We work hard, give us our green card!" chanted the marchers.
SACRAMENTO, California--Nine hundred people, most of them immigrant workers, converged on the Capitol here May 7 to demand equal rights for immigrants. A week earlier more than 1,000 people marched in San Jose, California, around this issue, demanding the right to obtain drivers licenses. The state of California has begun requiring a Social Security number in order to obtain one.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, an overflow crowd of 1,000 people turned out at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church May 6 to let police and state officials know that they want the state law reversed that requires proof of legal residency in order to obtain a drivers license.
The spirit of the marchers, along with their demands, demonstrate the confidence growing numbers immigrant workers have in asserting their rights as part of the working class in the United States.
The flyer for the April 28 action in San Jose was addressed to state governors, the U.S. Congress, and President George Bush. "We, millions of working people, produce more than $30 billion dollars to maintain the economy of this country," it read, "and you deny us the right to live in peace and dignity."
José Sandoval, a central organizer of the protest, echoed this sentiment when he told the rally, "We, the people, produce the wealth and should get the benefits!" The action was sponsored by Centro Azteca de Información and the Barrio Defense Committee.
"Se acaba la paciencia, queremos la licencia," (Patience has ended, we demand a license), "Duro, duro, con licencia es más seguro" (Strength, strength, with a license it's more secure), "Somos un pueblo sin fronteras" (We are a people without borders), and "Si se puede!" (Yes we can!) were chanted by the march through the streets of San Jose.
Among the many handmade signs at the rally were ones that read, "We work hard, give us a green card," "We need a good social security number to get a license," "Todos pagamos impuestos" (We all pay taxes), "Don't leave my parents without papers," and "Stop police brutality." Many people said they heard of the march by word of mouth or through their church.
Demands raised by the protesters and speakers included the right to a drivers license and a Social Security card, for legal status in the United States, and for an end to police brutality and jailings of immigrants. Denial of a drivers license, many marchers explained, adds to the difficulties of getting to and from work every day, of getting family members to the hospital or clinic in case of a medical emergency, and opens workers up to more police harassment.
Another action to press for changes in state laws to allow immigrants to get a drivers license is planned for May 12 in Redwood City at 4:30 p.m.
Participants in the May 7 Immigrant Day 2001 at the state capital came in buses and in cars from Bakersfield, Contra Costa, Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Riverside/San Bernardino, and other cities.
The action was organized by the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative (CIWC), a statewide coalition of five immigrant rights organizations. CIWC was formed in 1996 in response to attacks by the federal and state governments on the right of immigrants to health and welfare coverage in California. Among the 60 endorsers listed were several Asian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Latino organizations; the California Labor Federation/AFL-CIO; several locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Service Employees International Union; the American Civil Liberties Union; and the California Council of Churches.
The organizations calling the rally urged passage of several bills currently in the California legislature. One would maintain the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) regardless of their date of entry into the United States. Both programs were created to provide assistance to legal immigrants who were no longer eligible for federal benefits after passage in 1996 of the "welfare reform" law. CFAP provides food stamps to working families and CAPI provides cash assistance to seniors and persons with disabilities who are no longer eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits. Without new legislation, immigrants who entered the country on or after Aug. 22, 1996, will lose this assistance this coming September.
Other bills raised at the rally would allow high school graduates to pay in-state tuition and qualify for financial assistance to attend public colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status, and enforce requirements for state and local agencies to offer their services in languages other than English if there is a significant need.
Omar Ruiz, a student at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, said students from five area high schools coming to the rally filled two buses. "Going to college costs so much because we are not considered residents of California," Ruiz said. "It's not fair that we have to pay so much more than residents. Our families can't afford the money we have to pay. Getting a drivers license affects my father because without one he can't work his job as a chauffeur," Ruiz added.
Claudia Reyes attends Hayward High School and came on one of the buses organized by Mujeres Unidas of Oakland and San Francisco. The issue of education is the most important for her. "Recently the school's security guards and the Hayward police have stepped up security at my school. Sometimes they lock the doors at 8:00 a.m.," she said. "The presence of so many police is intimidating to many students."
Haena Cho, who is a community organizer for the Korean Resource Center and a member of Young Koreans United, said she is most concerned about the CAPI program. In discussing the right to a drivers license, she pointed out, "People work hard and they will drive to work one way or another to support their families."
Deborah Liatos is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 120.
Immigrants strengthen our class
May Day rallies across the world