FERNDALE, WASHINGTON (UCTP Taino News) - Last Monday, March 12, 2006, my husband, daughter and I all marched in a demonstration in Seattle against proposed legislation to criminalize illegal immigrants, deporting them or putting them in jail for the crime of entering the U.S. illegally. This demonstration was one of 140 held on this day in cities all over the United States. The Seattle Times estimated that 35,000 to 40,000 people marched.
I felt very emotional at times during the parade and moved to tears at other times. There were so many families marching... young and old all together. I marched behind a pregnant woman and next to a man with sheet rock mud all over his clothes and his hands, as if he had to rush so much to be there he didn't even have time to wash his hands. People were carrying babies and had small children up on their shoulders.
It was a warm day and Seattle is a very hilly city. And even though I walk every day I found it to be a very strenuous 4 mile march. One lady near us fainted. An old man sat on the steps of someone's house with tears in his eyes, he couldn't go on. We passed a Country Club and saw Mexican workers hanging out the window of a second floor restaurant cheering, you could tell they wished they could join us. Many people on the sidelines clapped and cheered as we went by. There were only a few counter-protestors carrying signs that said things like "what part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" etc., who were jockeying in front of the cameras trying to get on the evening news.
What really made me want to march and show my opposition to the legislation that would make criminals out of hard-working people was two things that happened over the weekend before the march.
My neighbor and I e-mail each other 'jokes' and other things of interest. On Saturday, she sent me a poem about illegal immigrants and how they come here and get on welfare, and have a lot of babies, and don't learn English, and take jobs from U.S. workers and every other ugly stereotype you ever heard, all told in this 'poem' using creative and mean-spirited rhyming words. I was so offended. I wrote and told her how I felt and reminded her that my husband was an immigrant who came to this country (legally) when he was six and was put into kindergarten not speaking a word of English in a time when there were no ESL (English as a second language) classes, and whose parents had never ever gone on welfare but had worked hard for everything they had, and how my husband had gotten not one, but two full-ride scholarships to college (for art and basketball), and had served this country in the US Army for 20 years and that if she ever sent me anything like that again, we could no longer be friends.
Then, the next day, Sunday, we went to a barbeque at a friend's house. Their daughter is turning 15 soon and the family is planning a quincenera. The young girl asked my husband to fill a position of honor, padrino, for her upcoming ceremony and we were there at her house will all the other people (if you have ever attended a Mexican quincenera, you know it is huge) making preparations for the big day. I was the only white person there and only a few others in attendance even spoke English. These are people we know, good people, kind people, fun people and none of them is on welfare. One has a landscape business and employs several others who were there, one was a tile installer, one lady a maid at a hotel, another an elderly care giver, another a painter, others roofers... every single one a hard worker.
Now, some will argue that these people work for less than Americans and therefore compete with Americans for jobs and lower the wages of others... but, this has been said of every new wave of immigrant groups since the relatively recent beginnings of our country... the Chinese were accused of the same thing, the Jews, the Irish... working for less is a price each new group of immigrants has to pay until they familiarize themselves with the language and the system.
Some argue for them, saying they do jobs Americans won't do... gutting fish, working long hours under the blazing sun in the fields for very little money etc., and farmers say their farming operations would cease to exist without this 'cheap labor' and we need them to keep our grocery bills down.
Others will argue that they come here and get on welfare right away... but, that is not true. If you are illegal you cannot get welfare and if you come here legally (as my mother-in-law recently did) you have to be sponsored by someone. In my mother-in-law's case, we signed an affidavit stating that we would provide for her in the event she could not provide for herself for the first 5 years she lived here. So, it is not true that illegal immigrants just come here to get on welfare.
Many US companies have moved their factories and manufacturing operations to Mexico where they pay the workers an average of $2.00 a day. This saves Americans lots of money on cars, clothing, etc. But, it still is not a wage on which these workers can support their families. I heard one man who was interviewed say that he can work here washing dishes for $5.00 an hour and almost make the same money in a day that he would earn in a month in Mexico. So, these people risk their very lives to come here and try to make a better life for themselves and their families. They sneak across the border in the killer heat of day or at night when armed border patrol agents with infrared lights can spot them and shoot them, they pay smugglers extortionist fees to bring them across the border stuffed into the backs of trucks and vans with inadequate ventilation, food, water or a place to relieve oneself. They risk their lives and their limbs hopping trains to try for a piece of the American Dream.
This country was intended to be a place that was open to all and all would have an equal opportunity to worship as they please, work and live free. The Statue of Liberty bears a plaque welcoming immigrants that says: "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free"... did they mean to say "we only want white people?" What part of this don't some members of our society understand? They have a 'now that I'm here I want the doors closed' mentality.
Some of the anti-immigration people support the government's idea to build a 700 mile wall between here and Mexico. The terrorists have not been entering through Mexico, so that's not the reason. The reason is to keep Mexicans out of the U.S. Some people say that the illegal immigrants just need to go back home and enter the U.S. legally, and that would be the ideal, but we have understaffed the INS (Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services) so that the process of legal immigration takes approximately 4 years to complete which is far too long for most people to wait... they have families, wives and children who need to be fed.
These people are part of the human family and deserve humane treatment as well as the same welcome and opportunities that most European immigrants to these shores have received.