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Dolores Huerta urges fighting immigration reform

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    http://www.elpasotimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060325/NEWS/60324005/1001 Activist urges fighting immigration reform By Louie Gilot El Paso Times
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2006
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      http://www.elpasotimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060325/NEWS/60324005/1001

      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
      legislation.
      “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
      bottom.”
      More massive protests were scheduled for this weekend
      in California.
      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
      in size.
      The latest local protest by the Border Network for
      Human Rights in December drew 300 marchers.
      The group’s administrator, Saul Soto, said he believed
      in pounding the pavement and chanting slogans to
      publicize the plight of immigrants.
      “It’s a tool that gets people to notice. It works to
      get attention when it’s 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
      the ’60s.”
      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
      generation gap.
      “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. That’s
      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 couldn’t 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.
      “I’ve never been in a march, but it felt like it. It
      felt empowering,” said a glowing UTEP sophomore,
      Yvonne Thompson.
      Huerta called current immigration legislation
      “horrendous.”
      “The immigration issue is such an important one. It’s
      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
      items.
      “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 doesn’t
      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
      to legalization.
      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 didn’t 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
      immigrants.
      Thursday, more than 10,000 people filled the streets
      of Milwaukee in what was billed as “A Day Without
      Latinos.”
      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 nation’s 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 church’s copper dome that read,
      “Immigrants Welcome — Oppose H.R. 4437.”

      Louie Gilot may be reached at lgilot@...;
      546-6131.
      The Associated Press contributed
      to this story.
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