April 7, 2013

Cesar Chavez marchers call for immigration overhaul

A boisterous crowd of 300 people marched to the state Capitol Saturday in celebration of Cesar Chavez, demanding an end to deportation and a path to legalization for undocumented residents.

A boisterous crowd of 300 people marched to the state Capitol Saturday in celebration of Cesar Chavez, demanding an end to deportation and a path to legalization for undocumented residents.

Demonstrators including farmworkers, labor activists and students rallied first at Southside Park at 10 a.m. in memory of the labor leader, whose birthday was March 31.

They gathered also with a mission – that of influencing immigration policy.

"We want legalization and a stop to deportation," said Eric Alfaro, president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the event organizer.

Conscious of the growing power Latinos hold at the ballot box, Sacramento-area politicians including Assembly members Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan joined the marchers.

"Sí se puede (yes we can)," Dickinson shouted forcefully to a roaring crowd.

"Every step on the ground can translate into votes," Alfaro said, noting the growth in the state's Latino population.

The state is home to more than 14 million Latinos, representing 37.6 percent of the population, according to the 2010 U.S. census. That is up from 10.9 million in 2000.

Though the message of immigration reform rang loudly, many seemed to have their own formula for how to go about it.

Alfaro's approach to immigration reform would "instantly" grant legal status to the estimated 11 million people residing in the country illegally.

"People have proven themselves to be law-abiding and hardworking," he said. "We want legalization now. No compromises."

But for Orlando Fuentes, 63, compromise wasn't out of the picture.

The president of the Latino Democratic Club acknowledged that concessions would have to be made to create the "pathway to citizenship," including offering something "similar to a green card but without the name."

"Undocumented immigrants are here. They're not going anywhere," the Elk Grove resident said.

Along the route, protesters beat drums, chanted in Spanish and waved large Mexican flags. They carried banners decrying deportation, which they said had reached critical mass under the Obama administration.

The federal government in 2011 deported 392,000 people who were in the country illegally, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Most were deported to Latin American nations, including Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

Dickinson said the country desperately needs immigration reform, and he floated the idea of building wealth overseas to solve the immigration problem.

"If people are successful in their own countries, it reduces the pressure to migrate to the U.S.," he said.

Pan, who told demonstrators he was the "child of immigrants," said later in an interview that his family came to the country legally decades ago, at a time when "America opened its arms."

"We've lost that," he said. "There needs to be a path to citizenship."

Since the passage of the California Dream Act – which allows undocumented students to apply for state financial aid – the issue of immigration has reached fever pitch at college campuses, said Zach Hannigan, 20, a Cosumnes River College student.

Hannigan attended the event for extra credit in his American history class and planned to write about it for his campus newspaper.

"We need things like this to let politicians know how we feel," he said, between scribbling down notes.

The Cesar Chavez march has become something of an annual ritual for Natomas resident Lorena Morales. Saturday was her 10th year participating in the event. Chavez died 20 years ago this month.

"This isn't just about Latinos," she said. "It's about promoting diversity. California has changed."

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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