March in Gainesville to support immigrants


Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 30, 2006 at 11:32 p.m.
They'll take to the streets of downtown Gainesville today and join the thousands - possibly millions - of people throughout the country in support of immigrants' rights and fair immigration reform.
More than 100 people, including University of Florida students, area residents and area political leaders are expected to participate in a march from the steps of City Hall to Sweetwater Branch Park beginning at noon, said Wilfredo Melendez, organizer of the event.
A group of Hispanic community leaders called the Latin Action Alliance is sponsoring the march, Melendez added.
Melendez said he hopes that the Gainesville event and countless other events like it will send a clear message to lawmakers about how important the country's estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants are to the U.S. economy.
"We want to see immigration reform," he said. "We want to see that undocumented immigrants are not treated as criminals and the people who employ or help them are not treated as criminals, either."
Instead, Melendez said he hopes lawmakers will consider giving immigrant workers temporary work visas and legal identification instead of deporting them.
Today's nationwide events coincide with Labor Day in much of Latin America, Melendez said.
Thanks to the success of previous rallies plus media attention, planning for today's events, collectively called Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes - A Day Without Immigrants - is widespread.
Officials in Los Angeles braced for huge crowds: Assistant Police Chief George Gascon said as many as 500,000 people could take part.
In smaller cities such as Allentown, Pa.; Omaha, Neb.; and Knoxville, Tenn., immigrants and their allies have been going door to door with fliers, making posters and sharpening speeches. In New Mexico, restaurants cooked meals this weekend that they'll donate for today's picnics in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
In New Jersey, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, people boycotting work will march to the offices of elected officials to urge them to support pro-immigrant legislation. In California, although a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said a boycott would "hurt everyone," Democratic state senators passed a resolution supporting walkouts.
For Gainesville's illegal immigrants, the immigration debate boils down to one thing: survival.
Eredin, a 27-year-old roofing worker from Mexico who does not speak English, said that he hasn't seen his family in two years. Eredin, who would not give his last name, said he lives in fear that he'll be deported and won't be able to support his two children and other relatives who live in Mexico.
More than anything, Eredin said he wants to become a U.S. citizen and bring his family here to have a chance at a better life.
"It's difficult to become a citizen here," Eredin told The Sun in Spanish. "It's very important we have resources to stay here and work."
Another construction worker, Alfredo, 28, agreed. Also declining to give his last name, Alfredo said he has no choice but to work here illegally to help his family survive.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or balld@gvillesun.com.

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