Mac students join rally for immigrant rights

By Matthew Stone

Filling the bike lane on Summit Ave. and packing city buses headed for downtown St. Paul on Sunday afternoon, about 100 Macalester students joined what organizers estimated to be a crowd of 40,000 at the St. Paul Cathedral to rally in favor of immigrant rights. St. Paul police put the attendance figure at 30,000. Organizers included immigrants’ rights, labor and religious groups.

Labeled the Minnesota March for Immigration with Dignity, the march route spanned the short distance from the Cathedral steps to the lawn of the state Capitol. Participants listened to speakers at either end and chanted such refrains as “‘¨S’¨, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”) and “‘¨El pueblo unido jam’¨s ser’¨ vencido!” (“The people united will never be defeated!”) intermittently throughout the event. The presence of Aztec dancers and mariachi musicians among the crowd contributed to a festive, rather than overtly political, atmosphere.

“I want to show my solidarity with immigrants in this country and just try to get the best legislation passed,” said Heather Kimmel ’06, who joined other students on Sunday in front of the Campus Center before proceeding to the rally. “And I think it’s pretty great that this is one of the biggest social movements that’s sprung up almost out of nowhere in a really long time or maybe ever.”

Sunday’s march in downtown St. Paul was one of many mobilizations across the country that have taken place over the last few months since December, when the U.S. House passed legislation that would, among other provisions, criminalize illegal entry into the United States a felony, along with the act of providing assistance of any kind to undocumented immigrants.

The Senate has not yet taken up the House legislation. However, negotiations on Senate legislation that would put most of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship while strengthening border security collapsed last week as senators adjourned for a two week recess.

Immigration has become an increasingly prominent issue in Washington D.C. since President Bush made a priority of cutting down on undocumented immigration by proposing a special guest worker program. National polls show that U.S. citizens are becoming more concerned about immigration as a top political issue.

In Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty recently commissioned a controversial report that outlined the cost of undocumented immigrants to the state without considering their benefits, critics say.

The 40,000 in attendance amid the warm and sunny weather on Sunday trumped the 2,500 who showed up for an immigrants rights march in Minneapolis in February.

Supporters in Dallas, San Diego, Miami and other cities joined demonstrators in St. Paul on Sunday. More than one million people in over 120 other cities across the country mobilized on Monday as part of what national organizers billed the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice.

A group of Macalester students began drumming up interest for the march last Monday upon hearing of the national immigrants’ rights campaign and local plans for St. Paul. The publicity campaign, which many students noted was among the most concentrated efforts in recent memory, included several rounds of posting flyers, many e-mails and countless word-of-mouth exchanges.

“I started the meeting [last Monday] and after that day it went beyond my hands,” Victor Llanque Zonta ’08, who helped direct organizing efforts, said on Sunday. “It was funny because today in the morning someone asked me if I was going to the march, giving me the news about it.”

The campus mobilization also attracted the interest of several student organizations including Mac Bike and cultural organizations such as the Latino student group ԬAdelante!

Mac Bike provided about 10 students with bicycles to ride to the march and serviced bikes for some of the approximately 40 other students who pedaled to the Cathedral, said Jason Tanzman ’06, a Mac Bike member.

‘¨Adelante! members assisted in the publicity efforts and turned out a large portion of the group’s membership on Sunday, Chair Maribel Frias ’08 said.

For Frias, participation in the march was personal. She said she was encouraged to see so many attend the march, especially such a large contingent of students from Macalester.

“It affects my family, my relatives and me as a person and it’s just not right, I don’t think,” she said, referring to the House legislation. “I’m just thankful that everyone came, and even if they’re not in my position it just comes to show that everyone’s [uniting] for a good cause.”

For some in attendance, including Julian Clark ’09, the march served as a learning experience.

“I’ve participated in marches before. They seem to be a good way of getting information across to a big amount of people,” Clark said on Sunday before proceeding downtown. “I don’t know terribly much about immigration. I know I’m going to kind of see what’s up when I go on this march.”

Nationwide, organizers of this week’s mobilization, including student organizers at Macalester, are wondering the same thing: Now what?

Llanque Zonta and others met Monday night, the day after the march, to determine just that. Among the plans is participation in Immigrant Rights Week activities taking place next week at the University of Minnesota. In addition, students involved in the efforts plan to sponsor a day in which students call their congressional representatives to voice their thoughts on the issue.

“Us showing up in numbers is great and all,” said Ana N’¨jera Mendoza ’06, another student involved in organizing student attendance at Sunday’s march, “but at the end of the day it’s Congress. It’s all about phone calls, emails.”