Posted on September 6, 2006

Immigrant Activists Met By Critics, Not Hastert, In Batavia

Sara Olkon, Chicago Tribune, September 5, 2006

For a reminder of the pro-illegal demonstrations earlier this year see, “The Nation Of Aztlan.”

Passion filled six blocks of Batavia on Monday as approximately 2,000 immigrant rights activists rallied near the home office of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

“Yes we can!” a jubilant crowd cried in Spanish. “We are America!”

Hundreds of marchers held up white wooden crosses symbolizing Mexicans who have died trying to cross the border into the United States.

For this pro-immigration force, the afternoon marked the end of a four-day, 45-mile walk that started in Chicago’s Chinatown Square and spanned the city’s western suburbs. About 250 marchers walked the entire distance. Others showed up at one or more of the neighborhood rallies in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood or in Cicero, Melrose Park, Villa Park and West Chicago.

The group wants Hastert, a Republican, to offer legalization for the nation’s 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants and to put a moratorium on raids and deportations by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Organizers also have planned a town hall meeting for Tuesday morning at a nearby church.

“There should be some ways for [illegal immigrants] to become legal,” said Esther Wong, executive director of the Chinese American Service League. “They just want a better life.”

Also on hand Monday were about 150 counter-protesters, including members of the Chicago Minuteman Project.

Police kept a buffer zone in place to keep the groups apart. At least 50 armed officers, some from other jurisdictions, stood watch with batons and police helmets at the ready. There were no reports of violence as of Monday evening.

Emotion and name-calling were plentiful.

Counter-protesters repeatedly yelled “Go home” and “March to Mexico” as the immigration march made its way down Wilson Street.

“Do you need a translation?” truck driver Paul Klein, 51, of Des Plaines screamed out. “Illegal is a crime.”

Over the din of clashing agendas, marchers played the song “We Shall Overcome” over a loudspeaker.

For Batavia resident Jeff Patterson, the demonstration was unwelcome.

“I can’t even park in front of my house,” said Patterson, 60, a part-time school bus driver.

It turned out that the inconvenience compounded existing anger. He said he lost his job doing heavy maintenance to undocumented workers.

“They are thumbing their noses at our laws,” Patterson said.