LA marches for immigration reform

Tens of thousands gathered in downtown Los Angeles Saturday to demand federal immigration reform. Carrying mostly American flags, crowds marched from Olympic Boulevard to First Street along Broadway. Among the many issues regarding immigrant rights, foremost on demonstrators' minds was Arizona's recent immigration law, which critics say will lead to racial profiling and civil liberties violations.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a bilingual speech at the rally. "I'm going to speak in English and Spanish today, because we are all equal," he said to cheering demonstrators. "We want change, we want reform and we want it now."

Villaraigosa criticized current immigration policies. He called them "outdated and ineffective" laws that fail to meet the needs of a global economy and recognize America's immigrant history. "Today's immigrants are no different and we should not treat them any differently," he said.

The mayor highlighted immigrant contributions to the country, pointing out that many children of immigrants are currently serving in the armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also addressed the need to fight immigration laws that did not respect people's civil rights.

"We must show that bigotry and close-mindedness have no place in the United States of America," he said.

Several labor unions attended the march and rally to show their support for immigrant workers. Teamsters Local 396 member Jose Amaya's union helps undocumented workers become legal. "Some of these people have been here for 20 years," he said. "They are not taking anybody's jobs."

Also represented at the rally were Teamster union chapters 42 and 872. Both chapters featured tractor-trailers that drove alongside demonstrators as they marched toward First Street.

Rally attendee Veronica Terriquez said that current laws did not address the rights of workers. "If we create a pathway to legalization we can get fair wages for workers," she said. "It will raise wages for everyone, including low-wage workers."

Terriquez is an assistant professor of Sociology at USC. She sympathizes with immigrant students saying that many live in fear of deportation. "These students have the potential to contribute to our society," she said. "Immigration laws don't allow that."

Aside from labor unions, student organizations were also in attendance on Saturday.

Pasadena City College Students for Social Justice lent their support for immigration reform by participating in the demonstration. PCC history major Mayra Jaimes felt Arizona's recent anti-immigration law was racist.

"We need a law that is fair," she said. "Grabbing anyone off the streets is not right."

Dressed in caps and gowns, advocates for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, were also present. The DREAM act is a proposed federal legislation that would provide a means for children of illegal aliens who graduate high school to obtain conditional permanent residency.

DREAM act advocate Yessenia Velasquez is a University of California, Los Angeles political science major. She said that current laws are unfair to immigrant students, saying they must pay costly out-of-state tuition fees despite living in the state their whole lives.

"Then they go through the trouble to get a degree and they can't work," she said.

Activists also argue that immigration laws break up families. Former Airman Eduardo Gutierrez marched in his fatigues carrying a sign that called attention to the deportation of military family members.

"There were people in Afghanistan and Iraq whose wives were deported," he said. "If you serve your country and put your life on the line, then your wife should be afforded citizenship too."

Los Angeles resident Anna Duran also attended the demonstration for family reasons. "I'm a citizen and my husband is illegal," she said. "I'm here for him and I want him here, in this country, with me."

The rally occurred peacefully, with the mood of the crowd being more celebratory than angry or hostile. Vendors sold hot dogs and ice cream while demonstrators shouted "Si se puede!" and listened to speakers talk about reform.