Immigrants rally for rights, unity
Small but spirited crowd urged to exercise political
cloutMonday, April 2, 2007
By DIANNE SOLÍS
and STELLA M. CHÁVEZ / The Dallas Morning News
An immigrant-rights rally on Sunday to mark the immense social protest a
year ago was lower in turnout but more focused in its message: become a citizen,
vote or learn to lobby.
And the speech that roused the crowd at the
Dallas City Hall plaza came from departing Catholic Bishop Charles Grahmann,
whose first " Sí, se puede" – the "Yes, we can" chant from the Chicano labor
movement – was followed by a chorus of echoes.
Law enforcement estimates of the crowd varied from 2,000 to 6,000 – a
fraction of the attendance at the 2006 march, believed to be the largest social
protest in Texas history.
"There are people who are creating racism and division today in the
community," said the Dallas bishop, who retires this month. "And that can't be
The bishop told the crowd members in Spanish that they had gathered to
push "our federal government" for changes in immigration law. "The immigrants
who are here illegally need the right to get papers, and citizenship, in this
great country. ... Sí, se puede."
Citizenship and voter registration booths had prominent positions on
the plaza. Activist Elizabeth Villafranca weaved among the crowd with her
clipboard, looking to register new voters.
"I was one of the apathetic voters," said Ms. Villafranca, who has been
fighting the Farmers Branch ordinance that would ban apartment rentals to most
illegal immigrants. "But with immigration, that's all changed."
The rally had its detractors. Less than a dozen people gathered across
the street from the plaza. One held a sign with a man wearing a sombrero that
read: "No way, Jose." Other signs read: "Stop taking our jobs" and "Children of
an invading force are NOT citizens."
Said one counterprotester, who asked not to be identified: "The problem
is sheer numbers. There are too many coming in too quick. It's got to slow
And though the Texas director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps
lives in nearby Arlington, Clark Kirby didn't attend the rally to
counterprotest. "We don't do that," he said. "That is confrontational."
Mr. Kirby said illegal immigration was out of control, but rallies are
a way for people to make their opinions known. Instead, Mr. Kirby was in the Rio
Grande Valley on Sunday, leading a semiannual "border watch."
Last year, police officials estimated that 350,000 to 500,000 people
took to the streets of downtown Dallas. At that time, many were angered by
federal legislation that would have made felons of those in the U.S. illegally.
The bill never made it to a vote of the full Congress.
And last year's Palm Sunday event was preceded by rolling protests and
student walkouts in such cities as Los Angeles and Chicago, where labor and
immigration activism have deep roots. Many in Dallas were taken aback in late
March 2006 when high school students here staged three days of walkouts in
defense of illegal immigrants, or as some of them put it, their parents.
Juan Hernández, who served in the administration of Mexico's former
President Vicente Fox, urged those who were in the U.S. legally to become U.S.
citizens and to register to vote. And then he urged the crowd to lobby, to make
phone calls to federal lawmakers and to the White House. Holding his cellphone
to the microphone, he called the White House and said, in Spanish, "I support
immigration reform, Mr. Bush."
Former state legislator Domingo García hit the same lobbying theme. "If
it is not now, cuando? If it is not this President Bush, who? ... It is time for
this Congress to pass immigration reform."
Other speakers included Dallas City Council member Don Hill, who is
running for mayor; Casey Thomas, president of the Dallas NAACP; and Gustavo
Jimenez, the Duncanville High School student who helped kick off the student
walkouts last March.
Coty Rodriguez Anderson, a counselor at a Dallas high school, called
for immigration raids to stop. "The children must stop fearing that they will
come to an empty house every day," she said.
Most of the crowd carried U.S. flags, though there was a sprinkling of
And the soundtrack ranged from old Santana tunes to even-older Mexican
classics to last year's pop hit "Mojado," about an illegal immigrant. As the
rally began, one speaker called out chants of "Stop the raids" and "Justicia
Rally participants marched in a circle around the City Hall plaza
chanting, "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido" – the people united will never be
Vendors sold ice cream, American flags and magnets that said,
"Latinos love America."
Ice cream vendors, or paleteros, pushed their carts and rang their
bells among those marching around City Hall.
Said one vendor, "If I were here legally, I wouldn't be a
paletero."Delores Thompson, a Jamaican immigrant, said she showed up at the
rally with a friend because "we love Mexicans, we support the Mexicans." The
Parkland Memorial Hospital emergency room nurse said she attends to legal and
illegal immigrants all day long. "And Mexicans will pay their bills," she added.
Mario and Carmen Lopez of Irving unfurled a large yellow banner they
made that proclaimed "Immigration Reform Now" and held it up for much of the
rally. The couple came from Mexico in 1995. But the U.S. citizens were only able
to legally bring their oldest sons, who are 13 and 15, to the country last year.
Ms. Lopez said she did not want to bring her children illegally since it is so
But she has many other relatives who are illegal. "I have a niece who
graduated from North Dallas High School who's married with children," Ms. Lopez
said. "She doesn't have her papers. I have another niece who's 26 and she came
when she was 14 and has the same problem."
Other rally attendees were tearful, as they explained why they came to
the Sunday rally. Marcela Mata, 29, from Leon, Mexico, acknowledged the crowd
didn't swell to the sums of 2006.
Dallas police Sgt. Gil Cerda said the crowd was "modest" in size. "They
were expecting 5,000, and I'm not sure that they reached that," Sgt. Cerda said.
But Sgt. Jaime Cortes of the Dallas County Constable's Office estimated that the
crowd was between 5,000 and 6,000.
Ms. Mata said it was the message, not the numbers, that was important.
"It doesn't matter if we are one person, if we are 1,000 or 3,000, but
one day they will listen to us," Ms. Mata said in tears. "We only come here to
Standing near his daughter, Jose Mata, who received amnesty with the
1986 immigration overhaul, said his daughter made him proud. "She was the first
one to graduate from high school," he said.
Staff writer Katherine Leal Unmuth contributed to this report.