Dolores Huerta urges fighting immigration reform
Activist urges fighting immigration reform
By Louie Gilot
El Paso Times
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta celebrated the
tens of thousands of people who took to the streets in
several U.S. cities in the past few days to protest
what they see as unfair and punitive immigration
Thank goodness the people are rising up and saying
this is not right, she said Friday at a speaking
engagement at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Every change made in this country was made from the
More massive protests were scheduled for this weekend
Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union
with César Chávez and a pioneer in grass-roots
organizing, galvanized a crowd of over 700 people
spilling out of a packed auditorium at UTEP. She said
public protest was the only way to stop HR 4437, the
immigration bill passed by the House in December with
provisions for a border fence, for making it a felony
to be illegally in the United States and for
penalizing those who help undocumented immigrants,
including charities and religious groups.
Huerta, 75, said she saw an activist renaissance
occurring in Texas.
But in El Paso, protests have been sporadic and modest
The latest local protest by the Border Network for
Human Rights in December drew 300 marchers.
The groups administrator, Saul Soto, said he believed
in pounding the pavement and chanting slogans to
publicize the plight of immigrants.
Its a tool that gets people to notice. It works to
get attention when its an urgent matter, he said.
The group is planning its next protest for April.
El Paso community activists deplored the apparent lack
of enthusiasm or organization in the city.
It seems like in El Paso we would have more of a
presence, said County Attorney José Rodríguez, who
calls himself a product of the Chicano movement of
Alicia Chacón, who said she participated in the
boycott of Farah Manufacturing in El Paso in the early
70s, thought protesting may seem pointless to some in
El Paso because anti-immigrant sentiment here is weak.
State Rep. Norma Chávez, D-El Paso, who was an
organizer for the UFW from 1993 to 1995, blamed a
El Paso is a community of activists, and most of them
have become CEOs and attorneys. There is a void in the
young activists from the university. Thats
unfortunate, she said.
But Friday, about 700 young people tried to cram into
an auditorium built for 400 to hear about civil rights
organizing from Dolores Huerta.
Those who couldnt come in sat in the hallways and
listened on loudspeakers. By the end, all were pumping
their fists in the air, yelling ¡Viva! and ¡Si se
puede! in unison with the Latino civil rights icon.
Ive never been in a march, but it felt like it. It
felt empowering, said a glowing UTEP sophomore,
Huerta called current immigration legislation
The immigration issue is such an important one. Its
translating into an attack on the whole Hispanic
community, she said. We cannot throw away the people
who pick our foods and take care of our elderly.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who was attending
a meeting of border sheriffs Friday in El Paso, said
HR 4437 is unlikely to become law because of the
provision for the border wall and other controversial
There are things in it that are real deal killers,
said Reyes, who voted against the bill. The Senate
has already told us that they are not interested in
passing the ... bill.
That is not to say that the legislation being debated
in the Senate is pleasing immigrant advocates. That
version of immigration reform does not have the wall,
but has a temporary guest-worker program that doesnt
include ways for migrant workers to permanently
legalize their status.
Huerta said she supported an alternative guest-worker
program sponsored by U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy,
D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz. It would provide
migrant field workers who have been living in the
United States without documents for years with a path
Friday, thousands of immigrant rights supporters
filled thoroughfares in Phoenix as they marched toward
the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., in a rally
call for a more-humane reform of immigration laws.
Hundreds of students in Los Angeles walked out of
their schools to call attention to immigration issues.
And activists in Georgia said tens of thousands of
workers didnt show up at their jobs after calls for a
work stoppage to protest a bill passed by the Georgia
House that would deny state services to adults living
in the United States illegally and impose a 5 percent
surcharge on wire transfers from undocumented
Thursday, more than 10,000 people filled the streets
of Milwaukee in what was billed as A Day Without
The Catholic Church has also organized marches around
the country to protest HR 4437. Earlier this month,
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, leader of the Roman Catholic
archdiocese in Los Angeles, the nations largest,
called on church leaders and members to defy the bill
if it becomes law.
In El Paso, Bishop Armando X. Ochoa is scheduled to
speak about the proposed immigration reform today. And
parishioners at St. Pius X Catholic Community recently
hung a banner on the churchs copper dome that read,
Immigrants Welcome Oppose H.R. 4437.
Louie Gilot may be reached at lgilot@...;
The Associated Press contributed
to this story.