Hundreds of thousands of people packed the streets of downtown Los Angeles March 25 to protest pending federal legislation designed to enforce stricter immigration laws and increase border security.
A passionate and vocal crowd came out to protest HR 4437 – a bill that if passed would make it a felony to help undocumented immigrants, create new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, increase the number of border security officers, and to allow the construction of a large fence at the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration reform bill March 27 without the penalties that would have criminalized individuals and groups who provide food, housing and medical care to undocumented immigrants. The committee also approved to increase the number of border patrol officers and approved measures favorable to undocumented immigrants.
Saturday’s march stretched over several blocks in downtown L.A.
The demonstration started on Broadway Street and Olympic Boulevard, and ended on the steps of L.A. City Hall where protestors heard speeches in favor of immigration reforms that would allow immigrants to gain amnesty or residency and against those that would make undocumented immigrants felons.
While waving flags from various nations, including the United States and wearing white T-shirts symbolizing peace, protesters walked shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity.
Demonstrators carried signs that read, “We are not criminals or terrorists, we are hard-workers!”
Many immigrants, laborers, professionals, politicians, and students attended the protest. CSUN students and professors also protested to advocate immigration reform that would not penalize those who come here illegally, or the people who help them.
“This is racism,” said Selene Salas, CSUN Associated Students Humanities II senator, who came to the march with about 20 members of CSUN’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan.” This bill will do nothing but hurt immigrants that come to this country to work and to provide a better future for their families.”
“As an immigrant this legislation, affects me and my family,” she said. “I am honored at the opportunity my family gave me by coming to this country, and I will continue to protest the dehumanizing of Latinos that come to this country to work and provide for their countries.”
On March 24, hundreds of students also staged similar protests as they walked out of their schools to march the streets in protest of the bill.
Several professors at the Saturday demonstration believed the students displayed an active role in politics and human rights advocacy.
“As a Chicana professor, I am excited about the new generation of activists who are organizing around the broader issue of immigrant rights,” said Theresa Montano, CSUN Chicano Studies professor, who attended the March 25 demonstration. “I believe the youth are calling upon the previous generation to join them in demonstrating our commitment to social justice and human rights.”
“These are all topics that have up to this date been instructional topics in our Chicano/a Studies courses,” she said. “It is time we practice what we teach and I am particularly proud of the young activists who are not only protesting the dehumanizing and racist immigration policies of this nation, but protesting against the war and for educational justice.”
Montano said she refused to remain silent about immigration laws.
“I was motivated to participate in this demonstration for the same reasons I have participated in previous demonstrations: I will not remain silent, while this nation continues to oppress others,” she said.
Montano said the bill was created in an attempt to instill fear into individuals who help those who need their help.
“The willingness of people to assist those less fortunate is not an immigrant rights issue,” she said. “It is a human rights issue.”
Montano also said she saw a sign at the demonstration that exemplified her feelings on the issue, ‘You bug us so much, you woke up the sleepy giant.’
“I believe that as a people, we will no longer make your beds, cloth you, pick your fruit and take care of your children; as you dehumanize us, we will not be silent,” she said.
Also among the crowd of protestors, Gilbert Cedillo, California’s 22nd District Senator, came to lend his support.
“We are humans, and we deserve to be treated like so, and not like criminals,” he said. “We want to live freely and work freely.”
Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, echoed that sentiment.
“We are here to demonstrate that we count, and let our voices be heard. The sheer magnitude of this crowd demonstrated that power, the voice we have,” she said. “People came here today to let politicians, to let the government know that we are not criminals. We are human beings that contribute to this country. Our voices are being heard.”
Blanca Morales, CSUN undeclared freshman, attended the demonstration to voice her generation’s concern about the legislation.
“As a student, I am here to speak for those that can’t, for those that have fear to come out,” she said. “I think it is important for the youth be active in politics, and speak out for what we believe in, because we are the future of tomorrow, and we have to let our voices be heard today.”
Rosa Furumoto, CSUN Chicano Studies professor, marched to change the youth view about immigration.
“I believe that students are central to making change in the world. They are the present and future leaders and their energy, compassion, and commitment can literally move mountains,” she said.
“All of us have some kind of first-hand experience relating to the hardships and struggles faced by immigrant people. The students’ presence at this historic march means that they care about this issue and want to make a positive difference in the world,” Furumoto said.
Claudia Lopez, CSUN sophomore computer science major, protested at the march with her family.
“I heard about the protest at school, but I came here with my family?because this legislation will affect families across the nation,” Lopez said. “I came here with my parents to demonstrate to the politicians, that Latinos?all immigrants matter. What they are doing is hurting people, dehumanizing us, and taking away our value as human beings.”
Esperanza Lopez, Claudia Lopez’s mother, said she came to U.S. to live a better life.
“We tend to your garden, clean your houses, raise your children?.and this is how you pay us back? We are not asking for the impossible, just the opportunity to live in peace and make a life for our family,” Esperanza said.
“We are demonstrating today, that we cannot be ignored-look at all the people here, we are showing that Latinos can unite, and untied we will stand and be heard, we will not be defeated.”
Esperanza said she and the other thousands of demonstrators were protesting so that their concerns could be heard in a peaceful and non violent manner.
“We are showing that we are civil, that we are not criminals, we are not breaking any laws, but the crowd is letting the government know that we will be heard,” she said.
Police said the march was peaceful. Police said by midday, an estimated 500,000 protesters lined the streets. By early afternoon the crowd was reduced to around 200,000 people, said Sandra Escalante, Los Angeles Police Department officer.
Police said no arrests were made at the demonstration. Police responded to some medical calls and children separated from their families.
Several people burned U.S. flags, said L.A.P.D. Commander Louis Gray, adding they were exercising their First Amendment right.
While police say they were only expecting 30,000 protestors, event organizers say that number was seriously underestimated, and that they notified
the police that they always expected hundreds of thousand of people to show up. At the end march, organizers said that they estimate that over 700, 000 lined the city streets.
“Whatever the actual number of people present turns out to be, what matters at the end of the day is that we demonstrated the power that the immigrant community has, and we did so peacefully,” said Diane Fuentes, one of the several volunteers who helped organize the march. “The community was motivated to come out and show the government the value of the immigrants in this country.”
Los Angeles City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the crowd at City Hall.
“There are no illegals here today, the only thing illegal here are these bills that are demonizing hard-working people,” he said.