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[ 07. Feb 2007 ]

March for Immigrant Rights in Richmond VA

March for immigrant rights in Richmond

The journey for Immigrant Justice kicked off on Friday, 02. Feb 2007, including a loud and enthusiastic march on Saturday from Monroe Park to the state capitol.


Mexican Sin Fronteras (Mexicans without Borders), the Virginia Justice Center, the Defenders and Virginia Anti-War Network were among the groups coordinating these four days of events.

Over 50 bills are before the state legislature and more than 40 of those bills are deemed anti-immigrant by the Journey for Immigrant Justice. These forty bills before the General Assembly deny in state tuition to immigrants, make it a misdemeanor to be undocumented, require nonprofits to check legal status for anyone they service, and allow local police much more authority in regulating immigration.

Indymedia reporters Jennifer Schockemoehl and Penny W. joined the march on Saturday and asked the demonstrators why they were there.

Hugo Carballo of the International Laborers Union said, "I support this effort. I want to tell them enough of so much injustice. When they talk about immigrants, they never talk about African or European immigrants, they criminalize Latinos. At my union local, we are more that 50% Latino. We do construction work. We came to work and we are not criminals".

Laura Castro is the Director of the Student Commission of the Virginia Journey of Immigrant Justice. Laura, a student at a community college, is most worried about the lack of immigrants at universities, "not allowing immigrant students to attend college will increase ignorance. Undocumented people are smart too!"

A man named Elwin came all the way from Annandale, Virginia. He carried a banner that said, "We are Workers, Not Criminals" and told me, "I came to support my comrades. I have six years in the country and I work as a Carpenter". Elwin was cut off by a round of a chanting, "We are not Criminals. We are not delinquents. We are workers. Respect my people".

Maria from El Salvador was there with her three children and said, "We do not agree with the laws they want to pass. They take away our right to live with dignity. We are self sufficient. I'm not a criminal. I want a better education for my family. We came to the United States because there was a Civil War in El Salvador and now we feel persecuted again. Immigrants from Russia and Europe are not under attack because they are white, we are attacked because of the color of our skin and because we speak Spanish. Blending is ok, but we need to remember our history too."

Then we met a man named Wayne who was watching the march from the steps of the Library. He told us, "Other races go through the same thing as Latinos. I mean, they have a right to protest, but there are a lot of problems. There are homeless people, and we can't get jobs. Immigrants need to go through the same process as me. I'm legally here, but they get jobs and I don't. I'm from England; I've been a permanent resident for 22 years. I've been trying to get permanent work, not temp jobs, and the minimum wage is $5.45/hour. Who can live on that? Just renting a room takes more than half of my check!"

Sunday there will be a vigil and Monday these immigrant rights organizations will lobby their legislators over the bills before the General Assembly. Below are the pieces of legislation in question.

HB 1970: This bill makes it a misdemeanor to be without documents. The bill changes the crime from civil to criminal. It also gives authority to police to arrest an immigrant based on any "probable cause" as simple as jaywalking, which many fear will lead to overt racial profiling of Latinos.

HB 2937: This bill says that any religious group or nonprofit that receives state or local funding will be required to verify the lawful presence of anyone they serve. As Tim Frielich, lawyer for the Virginia Justice Center, stated, "This will turn nonprofits into the DMV" and create a huge administrative burden.

Sen 1204: Is a pro-immigrant bill, although in direct contradiction to a bill in the house about the exact same topic. The senate bill says that if you graduate from high school, live in Virginia for three years, and you or your parents pay taxes, and you agree to adjust your status to legal as soon as possible, you can apply for state tuition. (The house bill seeks to deny access to state tuition). Virginia already invests thousands into k-12 education for immigrants and this bill would ensure that immigrants are not simply disqualified from continuing education at a university based on their documentation status.

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