More than 40,000 participate in immigrant rights rally


Marco Rodriguez and his wife, Santa Lopez, made a simple statement about immigration Sunday afternoon. Standing in front of the state Capitol – their two-year-old son, Anthony, playing on the grass next to them – Marco wore a sombrero emblazoned with the word “Mexico,” while he and Santa held up a large American flag.

“It shows the unity between our two countries,” Rodriguez said, speaking in English and Spanish.

Such optimism and hope were evident among many of the 40,000 people who marched to the state Capitol Sunday in the largest pro-immigrant mobilization in state history. Minnesotans from many backgrounds participated in the Minnesota March for Immigration with Dignity to support the immigrant community and a comprehensive solution to the outdated federal immigration system.

Recent marches in Los Angeles and Chicago garnered huge crowds. Organizers of the Minnesota event said the St. Paul rally drew not only people from the metropolitan area, but also thousands of rural Minnesotans who arrived on 60 chartered buses. Police officials and rally organizers estimated the crowd at more than 40,000.

The march occurred as both Congress and the Minnesota Legislature consider a variety of immigration proposals, ranging from classifying illegal immigrants as felons to providing a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the United States.

“We believe in justice and dignity for everybody,” said Harriet Youngmark of Rosemount, who came to the rally with her husband, Jerry.

“The immigrants are here. Now we have to find a way to assimilate them into this society.” She said she supports federal immigration reform proposed by Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy that would help many undocumented workers achieve citizenship.

“I came to put my views to the governor,” said Kennedy Mainya, who emigrated to Minnesota from Kenya about five years ago. “Immigrants work hard and they are here to live in peace.”

Carrying banners, signs and flags, the crowd assembled at the St. Paul Cathedral, then marched down John Ireland Boulevard to the state Capitol. At one point, the entire area from the cathedral to the Capitol was filled with people, many wearing t-shirts that read, “I’m a Worker, Not a Criminal.”

“People came here to work,” said Jose Rodriguez, whose immigrant parents eventually became auto workers in his home state of Michigan. Now living in Minnesota, he wore a t-shirt that read “Vietnam Veteran.”

“”Let’s give them a chance,” Rodriguez said. “Making it a crime is not going to solve anything.”

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Ray Waldron said he was marching “for my grandfather, who came to America from England. He raised three daughters and a son in northeast Minneapolis.”

He said politicians who are pushing anti-immigrant proposals are engaging in “the politics of fear.”

Several speakers addressed the gathering to advocate for the importance of worker’s rights for all, family reunification, a path to legalization, equal educational opportunities, civic participation and civil liberties. “Those of you that may have suffered injustices in the country of your birth, should not suffer those injustices in your new home,” asserted Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Sharon Lubinski.

Student Felipe Mancera told the crowd that because of the broken immigration system, he has been unable to fulfill his dream of going to college. “Equal educational opportunities for all! We are not ‘illegal’ things, we are human beings,” Felipe said, to loud cheers from the crowd.

The march was organized by a coalition of faith, labor, and community groups known as the Alliance for Fair Federal Immigration Reform of Minnesota (AFFIRM) along with immigrant leaders, students and many others involved in the immigrant rights movement.

The march builds on awareness created during the national Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride in 2003. Rider Marv Davidov, veteran of many political protests, said the immigrant rights movement needs to unite with other progressive movements “into one front that can fundamentally change America.

“It’s the corporate state that we must fight and overcome to create real democracy,” he said. “Without economic democracy, political democracy is a sham. We need to have both.”

For more on the rally, go to “Immigrants Dreams Are Our Dreams”: