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March for Dignity, Respect and Hope

(About Sunday, April 9, 2006)

Roberto Martinez
San Diego, California

Roberto L. Martinez
Roberto L. Martinez. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Twenty years ago human rights and immigrant rights leaders organized a march for immigrant rights titled “March for Peace and Justice.” At that time we were also protesting national immigration policies and respect for human rights and dignity of migrants crossing the border. Just like today, unarmed migrants were being shot and killed by the Border Patrol (for example, the controversial December 30, 2005 shooting of Guillermo Martinez. He died December 31.(1))

Although, people came from all over California and Arizona, we only managed to gather around 2,000 people for the march, which we held at Larsen Field in San Ysidro. Twenty years ago that was considered a lot of people for San Diego. Local media estimated 50,000 people for the April 9th march. However, organizers for the march claim it was closer to 100,000. Today, the stakes seem to be much higher for immigrants.

HR 4437, which has already been passed by the House and is presently stalled in the Senate, was authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin). The bill, if passed into law in its present form, would, among other things, make it a felony to be in the country illegally. It would also make it a crime to provide humanitarian aid to immigrants. It would authorize local law enforcement to enforce immigration law, as well as authorize the construction of a 700-mile long wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

The Senate version authored by Senators McCain and Kennedy would omit the felony penalties and include a guest worker program that would eventually lead to permanent residency status -- and eventually citizenship. This is one of the key points of contention that immigrant rights activists across the country are demanding from any immigration reform package that is passed -- that a path to legalization is included in any legislation that is passed by Congress.

Because of the huge success of mobilizing pro-immigrants rights marches across the country in key cities, organizers have taken it a step further and are organizing a nationwide boycott, being called “A Day Without Immigrants” on Monday, May 1st asking immigrants to stay home from work and not shop or go to school. The Mexican governors of northern Mexican border towns are asking Mexicans not to cross the border to shop in the U.S. on May 1st.

Unfortunately, the images of tens of millions of Latinos marching across the country, has created an angry backlash by some legislators and those Anglos who fear the presence of so many Latinos --especially immigrants. As reported extensively on Univision (Spanish-language TV) and in an editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the backlash has sparked an increase in hate crimes and hate-mongering against both immigrants and Latinos in general.

It’s incredibly ironic that legislators like Rep. Sensenbrenner, among many others, who voted for NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) are responsible for people in Mexico losing their jobs by flooding Mexico with subsidized corn and other commodities over the last ten years, displacing tens of thousands of farmers and workers. These displaced people were left with only two options for finding work. Go to already overcrowded Mexico City with its 22 million people. Or, go to the United States and find work in the country responsible for displacing them.

Immigrants continue to do the jobs Americans are not willing to do, but nothing is ever said about the enormous economic contributions they make to this country. National studies
(2) have shown that, collectively, immigrants earn $240 billion a year, pay $90 billion a year in taxes, and receive $5 billion in welfare. That is a surplus of $85 billion that goes into public funds, not to mention the money they spend in our economy.

This was what was meant when our people carried signs at the April 9th march in downtown San Diego that said, “We are America.”

1. On January 3, 2006, the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego issued a press release calling for an investigation into four other recent border shootings
2. For example, the National Academy of Sciences report of 1997

About the author: Roberto L. Martinez is an immigrant rights activist.

Published in In Motion Magazine - April 25, 2006

Also see:

  • Interview with Roberto Martinez (2001)
    One of the greatest human rights tragedies in the history of the U. S.
    Border operations / Migrant life / Organizing for human rights
    San Diego, California
    Published in In Motion Magazine - December 4, 2001

  • A Call for a Humane U.S. Immigration Policy
    A critique of President G. W. Bush’s immigrant identification plan
    Roberto L. Martinez
    San Diego, California
    Published in In Motion Magazine - January 26, 2004

  • Immigration Issues (index of articles)