Workers protest Virginia anti-immigrant laws
Workers packed Prince William County Board of Supervisors meeting October 16 as funding for local anti-immigrant laws was decided. They spilled out into the hallways and outside.|
BY SETH DELLINGER
WOODBRIDGE, VirginiaMore than 2,000 immigrant workers and their supporters packed the meeting chamber, hallways, and surrounding grounds of the Prince William County offices October 16. They turned out for a meeting of the county board of supervisors to oppose anti-immigrant measures that would deny some social services to the undocumented and give local cops the power to investigate the immigration status of those they arrest.
The board had initially approved the measures July 10 but delayed funding them until completion of a study of which services could be legally denied to undocumented immigrants.
After public comments by nearly 400 speakers, most of whom spoke against the measures, the supervisors voted to approve their initial funding. Left unresolved was long-term funding of the measures.
Once the meeting room and overflow seats were filled to capacity, hundreds more workers formed a picket line outside. They chanted for hours on end, many staying until the meeting ended at 2:30 a.m.
Among the favorite chants were Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos! (Were here and were not leaving), No al racismo! (No to racism) and Sí se puede! One group of workers chanted the latter in English: We can do it!
Most of the demonstrators had left work early or taken the day off to attend. About 20 of us came together, said Abel Ramírez, a bricklayer originally from Mexico. I think theres maybe 100 or so left there out of a workforce of 400.
Hundreds had attended a rally at the county offices the previous week. Many more heeded the call for a county-wide work stoppage October 9.
Since the first version of the resolution was passed in July, workers here have taken many actions in a campaign to overturn it, including a week-long boycott of nonimmigrant business and a march and rally of 5,000 on September 2.
To avoid a legal challenge, the measure limits denied services to aid for substance abuse and counseling, homeless assistance, in-home care, and other programs for the elderly. The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and other organizations have filed suit against the measures on behalf of 22 plaintiffs.
A couple dozen supporters of the resolution, mainly members of the rightist outfit Help Save Manassas, also attended the meeting. They were roundly booed by the mass picket of immigrant rights supporters. One rightist lashed out, striking a young woman demonstrator.
Marleny Machado, a student at nearby Nova Community College, said she came to respond to those who think that just because we speak with an accent, we think with one.
Christina Lese, a U.S.-born student from George Mason University, said she used to oppose immigrants but changed her mind after traveling to Mexico and seeing the conditions of poverty there. If I was in that situation, I would do anything, legal or illegal, to come here and be able to work, she said.
Francisco, a meat cutter who had traveled from Washington, told the Militant, This demonstration shows who we are as Latinos and who we are becoming. Between us there are no borders.
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