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Over 100,000 March in Chicago to Protest Immigration Reform Bill in One of Biggest Pro-Immigrant Rallies in U.S. History

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Over 100,000 marchers took to the streets of Chicago last Friday to fight a bill that would rewrite the nation’s immigration laws. The march marked one of the biggest pro-immigrant rallies in U.S. history. We discuss the implications of the bill and the demonstration with a member of one of the many organizations that spearheaded the event. [includes rush transcript]

The political debate over immigration reform continues to heat up across the country following the recent passage of a bill by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate will debate the bill later this month.

Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of Chicago last Friday to fight the bill that would drastically strengthen immigration enforcement, including extending a fence along the Mexican border and severe punishment for those who aid undocumented workers.

The mostly Latino marchers crammed the streets carrying signs saying for example “No human being is illegal” and “we are not criminals.” Critics say the Sensenbrenner bill would turn millions of undocumented workers into felons for crossing the border without permission

Police estimate 100,000 marchers participated, making it one of the biggest pro-immigrant rallies in U.S. history, according to national advocates. However organizers estimate the numbers were as many as half a million and newspapers reports varied in that range.

Last Tuesday thousands of immigrants rallied against the bill outside the U.S. Capitol. More action is expected to come across the country as the bill is debated in Congress.

Marchers in Chicago on Friday had the support of local politicians. U.S. Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez said in a speech, “This is our country, and this is where we will stay.”

Democrat Governor Blagojevich addressed the crowd in Spanish, saying, “You are not criminals, You are workers.” Longtime Mayor Richard Daley also pledged support.

  • Abel Nunez, associate director of Centro Romero, a community-based organization that serves the refugee immigrant population on the northeast side of Chicago.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined now in Chicago studio by Abel Nunez, associate director of one of the many groups that spearheaded the event. Centro Romero is a community-based organization that serves the refugee immigrant population in the northeast side of Chicago. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Abel Nunez.

ABEL NUNEZ: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: This has gotten almost no attention in this country. Massive protest. Did you expect the numbers of people who protested on Friday?

ABEL NUNEZ: Actually, yes. I think the organizers were the only ones that really believed the turnout was going to be that big. I think the rest of — you know, we’re very much a silent, invisible, marginalized community, but I think the organizers had a feeling that it was going to be a huge march.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about exactly why people took to the streets?

ABEL NUNEZ: I think that there is a feeling that, you know, there are laws coming that are putting people between a rock and a hard place, and they have no place to go, unfortunately. They have nothing to lose. A lot of people that are undocumented feel fear about coming out, and in past that’s why they haven’t really demonstrated. But now, they feel like they have nothing to lose, that for the first time this country is telling them: you are not wanted. I mean, it’s not about just not being able to adjust your status. It’s now about: we want you out.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about where the legislation is right now. Passed by the House, but not by the Senate?

ABEL NUNEZ: Correct. Actually right now the Senate Judiciary Committee is discussing their version of it. It is the time when I think the leadership of the Senate wants a vote on a specific bill by the 27th of this month. So, grassroots movements are mobilizing to ensure that the Senate hears — not only sees the show of marches on the street, but also, you know, they hear from voters that this is not the America that we want. And I think that during this time we are trying to mobilize again people to send in letters, call in to the Senate. It appears that if something happens, it will be somewhat different than the House bill that was approved, Sensenbrenner HR 4437.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Abel Nunez, who’s with Centro Romero, a community-based group in Chicago, one of the organizers of the mass protest on Friday there. Last week in our headlines, we read that the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a law that would classify social workers who feed and house undocumented workers as human traffickers. The ACLU criticizing the bill, saying it gives extraordinary powers to detain non-citizens indefinitely without meaningful review. It will potentially place many non-citizens in a legal black hole that subjects them to a life sentence after having served a criminal sentence or, in some cases, without ever having been convicted of a crime. Can you just go through the legislation and what is being considered now?

ABEL NUNEZ: Correct. The House bill, 4437, served as launching point for the Senate. Senator Specter basically introduced a version, his version, of the bill to discuss on the Senate subcommittee, and it took a lot of the border enforcement. The only difference with his bill is that he did add what fellow Republican Party — is a controversial guest worker program without the possibility of ever — of citizenship or a path to citizenship. And at this moment they are being discussed. Senator Durbin is part of that committee, our senator here in Illinois. He has been a champion of the immigrant fight, and the different forces are trying to ensure that if any bill passes the Senate, it’s more of a balanced effect, instead of — and not only an enforcement bill.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the wall?

ABEL NUNEZ: Yes. On the HR 4437, one of the provisions is that a wall be constructed on the southern border between Mexico and the United States. And this is somehow, according to the bill, would prevent immigrants from coming. I think that misses the point, and it doesn’t really address the real issues as to why people are coming to this country. And I think that the facts show that this country needs the immigrant labor force. You know, the globalization factors, some factors that we, as an immigrant community, have no control over, are pushing the demand for this labor. So, I think that the wall is an attempt to kind of put a facade of security, given our current environment of terrorism and protectionism that we are living in in this country, but in reality, it will do nothing to stem the flow of immigration, and it does nothing for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants that are here in this country working.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does due process fit into this picture?

ABEL NUNEZ: Well, I think that’s what they are taking out. I think, you know, their mode of thinking is that they need to expedite — they need to give powers to law enforcement to expedite removal of this country and one of the laws — the laws that have been put in place actually have taken a lot of due process and made it much more easier for border agents and immigration officials to deport immigrants immediately without giving them due process. I think that really goes against the tradition of this country, about giving people an opportunity to expose their case.

AMY GOODMAN: Abel Nunez, what are you proposing as an alternative immigration plan?

ABEL NUNEZ: Yeah, I think if we are really discussing about true immigration reform, one, it has to address the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States. We need to find a way to legalize their status. Two, we need to create a program by which we address the flow of immigrants that will continue to come into this country in a way that’s safe, in a way to regulate their passage. And third, I think that we need to look at also the waiting lines that exist for family members to petition other family members; I mean, people here who are citizens are petitioning family members, and it’s taking, in some cases, twelve years before a visa is available to them. I think that the system is broken. It doesn’t truly address the current needs of this country, and if we are talking about immigration reform, we really have to address — we have to approach it from, you know, from a holistic approach, instead of just enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: Abel Nunez, on that note, I want to thank you very much for joining us. He is with the Centro Romero, a community-based group in Chicago. And we’ll certainly continue to cover this issue.

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