Hundreds rally for immigrant rights

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Labor unions, immigrants and allies marched on St. Paul’s West Side on Labor Day, demanding protection of worker and immigrant rights. The crowd gathered at Castillo Park had a festive feel, with participants ranging from babies in strollers to veterans of the civil rights and anti-war movements. Representatives from Northwest Airline workers, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) and UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) were among the labor union participants.

Samuel Gompers, head of the union federation in 1898, said that Labor Day was the day when “the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”

Union member Cherrene Horazuk, marching with the AFSCME banner, said this year’s Labor Day marchers supported immigrants’ rights because “workers from around the world have made this nation.”

Marv Davidov, longtime Twin Cities activist, noted that, “Except for native people, we are all immigrants. All immigrants deserve protection and welcome. … They are a boon to America and we should open our arms and welcome them.”

Protection of all workers’ rights and of the human and civil rights of immigrants, legalization for undocumented immigrants and family reunification were among the demands on marchers’ banners and placards.

Joining with old and new immigrants, the Santos family came from Worthington to march. Fernando, age 9, said that he was marching for immigrant rights “because I like to help out the state.” His mother, Mercedes, explained that they were fighting for the rights of all Latino people, and especially for legalization. Legalization, added her husband, Santiago Santos, is for people who come to work. “If someone is looking for work and a better life,” he said, “they should be able to come.”

Liberian immigrant Emma Hynch, age 14, agreed. She is looking forward to starting high school at South High in Minneapolis on Tuesday, fulfilling her dream of getting a better education. Emma and her 9-year-old brother, Shadrach, helped to supervise the button-making booth, where children and adults created their own one-of-a-kind statements. Emma’s buttons proclaimed “I can help you!” and “Be the best that you can be!”

Helping her in the button booth, Maria Zavala wore a button with the slogan “Sí, se puede!” Zavala, a mother of four, said family reunification is a high priority for her. When she came to Minnesota 11 years ago, she had to leave her children behind in Mexico. Now they are with her, but she remembers how it feels, and worries about other families who are still separated.

Other booths offered information on immigrant and worker rights and opportunities to call or write to legislators. Postcards from the “We are America” campaign bore images ranging from immigrant children studying the pledge of allegiance at a New York City shelter in the early 1950s to a farm worker in the field. Each picture postcard bore the message, “Immigrants are America’s families, workers and neighbors.”

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