Immigrants: We Aren’t Criminals

Patricia V. Rivera, News Journal (Wilmington), March 8, 2006

WASHINGTON—Shouting, clapping and pleading, some 20,000 immigrants gathered Tuesday to protest federal efforts to turn into criminals those who come to America seeking freedom and opportunity.

Among the protesters was 35-year-old Lucas Perez, a construction worker from Georgetown, who joined the crowd as it chanted in Spanish, “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos.” Translation: “We’re here and we’re not going.”

“We need everyone to understand we’re part of this society,” he said.

Perez traveled to the rally, held to protest federal legislation that threatens to detain and deport illegal immigrants, with at least 500 workers who filled five buses leaving from Georgetown. Sussex County’s immigrants have grown so vocal about influencing federal legislation that a local employer, Perdue Farms Inc., decided to stop production at its Georgetown plant for the day so that its workers could attend the rally outside the Capitol.

Heron Ramirez, 30, the father of the two girls who had a sign saying they weren’t terrorists, said he knew he had to attend Tuesday’s rally as soon as heard the details of how H.B. 4437 would affect immigrants. “I took a day off from work because I feel it’s important to stop this,” Ramirez, of Georgetown, said. “We can’t be treated like criminals.”

Organized by the National Capital Immigration Coalition, the protest united groups that represented immigrants from all over the world. Participants included the African Peoples Action Congress, Council of American-Islamic Relations of Maryland and Virginia, the South Asian-American Leaders of Tomorrow and the National Council of La Raza.

“We have never mobilized these many hardworking, tax-paying immigrants to the Capitol,” said Jaime Contreras, a Washington labor leader and coalition organizer.

Speakers addressed the crowd in English and Spanish, and many participants waved flags from Latin American countries, despite requests from organizers that they display only the stars and stripes.

The event included a religious service that embraced eight faiths, focusing on the American tradition of hospitality to immigrants.

Artemio Masa, 35, of Alexandria, Va., held up a sign with an illustration of pilgrims stepping on dry land. “Your ancestors,” the sign read. “Immigrants, too.”

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Children not even old enough to walk donned white shirts with bold black letters stating, “I am not a criminal.”

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