More than 400,000 rally for immigrant rights
May 1, 2006
News and notes around the city from Sun-Times reporters:
Cardinal Francis George and other priests led the crowd in a series of prayers in Polish, Spanish and English. Then they observed a moment of silence that one of the speakers said was to commemorate all who died crossing the border or in other immigration mishaps.
They sang “Amazing Grace” and “The Lord’s Prayer in Spanish,” and released five white doves, one at a time.
“God bless us all,” one of the priests said, closing the rally at about 5 p.m.
—Mark J. Konkol
The police say more than 400,000 people turned out, but the organizers insist it’s many more.
Nearly 700,000 people showed up, with buses from Joliet and Elgin arriving late and kids showing up after school, said Marissa Graciosa, spokeswoman for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
“We’re always going to say more than the police,” she said with a laugh.
Omar Lopez, one of the organizers of this rally and the earlier March 10 demonstration, said he hadn’t seen their final figures, but he said “I know for sure it went over a half a million” when compared to the earlier rally.
Police estimated more than 100,000 were at the March 10 rally, but organizers insist it was more than 300,000. Lopez said that based on the area covered during both events, more than 500,000 showed up Monday.
Besides the greater numbers, Lopez said the key difference between the two rallies was the greater diversity of the groups involved this time. He saw Arab Americans, African Americans — including the Nation of Islam — Korean Americans, Irish Americans, Chinese Americans and other Asians.
“We’re very satisfied with the turnout,” said Lopez, 61, a Humboldt Park resident and member of the Institutes of Mexicans Abroad. “We’re also very happy about the participation of the different ethnic groups. . . . The theme of the rally was legalization for all.”
It’s been years since Rosa Enriquez, 23, became a citizen after coming to this country as a child from Guerrero, Mexico, but she came out because of what is in her heart.
“I’m never going to stop being an immigrant,” said Enriquez, a Children’s Memorial Hospital employee who now lives in Brighton Park. “I’m always going to look back on my roots. I came from a humble part of Mexico.”
She came to today’s event with her sister, Amalia Juarez, 30, and Juarez’s five children, aged 11 months to 14 years. Around their arms or tied in the hair were strips of green fabric — the color in the Mexican flag that they said symbolizes peace and freedom.
“We’re speaking for everybody,” Enriquez said.
The Grant Park rally began at about 3 p.m. and was still going at 4:30 p.m., but appeared to be winding down.
“When I look out, I see America, I see Americans,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told the sea of faces. “I stand here as a first generation American. … I believe in what our Pledge of Allegiance says in English and Spanish, libertad y jusitica para todos,” repeating it in English, “liberty and justice for all.”
Others who spoke included Rep. Luis Guiterrez (D-Ill.), the Rev. Michael Pfleger, leaders of immigrant groups and labor unions.
“We claim victory,” Jessica Aranda, the Latino Union of Chicago, an organization that works with day laborers, told the crowd. “This is a historic first step. Those of us … who did not work together are standing side by side.
“Today we set off on a long journey. … Any attempt to criminalize our community will cause us to do one thing — stand up together.”
Earlier, James Valadez stood outside the rally holding up a sign that read, “Ivy Leaguer for Immigrants.”
The son of a woman who came here illegally but now has legal status, Valadez, 25, grew up in the Austin neighborhood, graduated from Dartmouth in 2003, is planning to go to law school and works for the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora.
“I’m proud,” he said. “I feel like this is my duty as someone who has an eduction, who has traveled and who educates young people.”
Rosa Ceron, a first grade teacher at Ontarioville Elementary School in Hanover Park, took the day off and marched with her 66-year-old mother, Apolonia Ceron.
They were just two of nearly 1,000 people bused to the rally from Elgin by a local community group.
“This will help. It will show we’re here,” Rosa Ceron said of the rally. “It’s just numbers. But numbers can make a difference.”
She immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with her family more than 30 years ago.
She and her mother are both citizens now — and she favors legal reforms that would give all immigrants a chance to remain in the U.S. and become citizens.
That would help immigrants build better lives and help the country, she said.
“If someone wants a better place for themselves, they will help make this a better country,” Ceron said.
Her mother, who works at a suburban food packaging plant, lost a day’s pay for attending the rally. She also received a penalty for an unexcused absence.
“To better the country, America, it’s worth it,” said Apolonia Ceron, who waved an American flag as she marched.
“It takes sacrifice, but by sacrifice this can be done,” she said.
The crowd that gathered for today’s march and rally was larger than anticipated, Chicago Police said this afternoon. Deputy Supt. Charles Williams said there actually were close to 400,000 people who participated, about 100,000 more than initially projected.
“It was the largest march I’ve seen in my career,” Williams said. “It was very peaceful, very well-organized, and I think a lot of that has to do with the cooperation that the march organizers gave us.”
One participant was removed by the fire department after fainting.
There were no arrests, officials said. “In my line of work that means I had a very good day,” Williams said.
However, several people who appeared to be white supremacists — and who were chanting anti-immigrant slogans — were spotted in the crowd at LaSalle and Jackson, and police officers asked them to leave, which they did.
—Eric Herman and Annie Sweeney
Once they arrived in Grant Park, the crowds waited for the rally to begin at 3 p.m. Scores of people left after just 15 or 20 minutes without even hearing any of the main speakers. But the park remained jammed with streams of people still coming in.
“I just wanted to come show people how many of us there really are in Chicago, and that together we can make a difference,” said Sebastian Flores, 30, a Chicago construction worker who wore the Mexican flag like a cape and held a smaller American flag in his hand.
—Mark J. Konkol, Lucio Guerrero
It took more than two hours and 20 minutes for the demonstrators to all pass through Union Park, with only a few stragglers left by 2 p.m.
And while many took the day off work, Silvia Lopez and her mother were there to register their support and also to sell $1.50 chicharrones, deep-fried flour chips covered in hot sauce. They are citizens because of the amnesty granted in the mid-1980s.
“This is very significant for my family,” Lopez said. “I’ve never seen the Latino community get together like this before. It shows people really care.”
Nicole Hilario and Tom McCarey, a 30-something couple from Old Town, were a personification of the American melting pot. He’s a former South Side Irish guy, and his wife is a Mexican American from Texas. They brought their 7-month-old son, Jackson.
“My grandmother came from County Mayo, and she was not restricted in immigration the way my son would be if he was born south of the Rio Grande,” McCarey said.
– Mark Konkol
As the march approached the financial district, a festive atmosphere prevailed. Children beat time on plastic buckets as the canyons between the buildings echoed with shouts of “Si se puede.”
– Eric Herman
Very few counterprotestors showed up to voice their opposition.
Naperville resident Jim Kreamer, 62, was one of the few, standing outside Grant Park at Jackson and Columbus holding a handmade sign that read “I [Heart] Illegals” with the I and L in “Illegals” crossed out.
Clad in Dockers and loafers, Kreamer and his sign did not spark any anger. Some demonstraters took photos of him with their camera phones.
“A lot of people are giving me the thumbs up, but I’m not sure they understand,” Kreamer said.
For the most part, it was a good-natured crowd. They even did The Wave on Jackson Boulevard as they neared Grant Park. And though the sidewalk was closed off near the entrance to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office at 10 W. Jackson, marchers generally walked past without registering any reaction.
– Annie Sweeney
Jackson swelled sidewalk to sidewalk for hours with thousands of people carrying the flags of every nation — though far and away the most predominant was the American flag, followed by the Mexican.
Over and over they shouted “Si se puede” and “Yes, we can.”
Peter, 35, from Poland stood on a marble column outside the Dirksen Federal Building waving a large Polish flag over the procession.
“Viva Polonia,” shouted a man with a Mexian flag marching by.
“Viva Mexico,” Peter shouted back.
Bagpipes wailed as the kelly green-shirted Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform marched by.
Daniel Alvarado, 11, of Chicago, held a sign that said, “Do I look like a terrorist to you?”
One of the mass-produced signs had a typo and read, “No human beign is illegal.” Many of the marchers made home-made corrections to the sign, but some just carried it misspelled.
Other signs: “USA Made by Immigrants.” “We too have a dream.” “Somos Immigrantes, no terroristas.”
Gabriela, 19, of Mexico, carried a hand-painted sign saying “We pay taxes!” “This means a lot because we pay a lot of taxes too,” she said.
– Abdon Pallasch
Nearly all the restaurants along the marchers’ route were closed, including landmarks like Wishbone and Lou Mitchell’s at Jackson and Des Plaines.
Tomato Head Pizza Kitchen, 945 W. Randolph, was one of only a handful that were open.
Closed streets meant deliveries were “basically zero,” but walk-ins from the parade made up the difference, said owner John Karabas, 46, of Winnetka. The traffic reroutes are “really hurting deliveries downtown,” he said. “But the walk-in business is good. I’m very impressed with how it’s organized.”
Karabas has 16 employees at his two restaurants — his other eatery is in Lincoln Park — who wanted to participate in the march. Staffers were working staggered shifts so everyone could go to the march. “We worked it out together,” Karabas said. “I said, â€˜Listen, I’m paying you guys to work, but I support what you want to do.’ ”
– Eric Herman
More than 300,000 people have turned out, stretching from Union Park to Grant Park, said Chicago police spokeswoman Monique Bond.
Volunteers handed out paper cups of water outside Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams, as country star Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American” blared from speakers.
“Isn’t it magnificent?” asked Bill Fraher, the church’s music director. “It’s pretty powerful. Just the sea of humanity and people just asking for what is rightfully theirs.”
Every time the crowd passed an intersection, it let out a cheer, knowing they were that much closer to their destination. In between the chants came the strains of Scottish bagpipes from a group of Irish Americans.
Retiree Jerry Walsh said he remembers when signs were posted in Chicago “No Irish need apply.”
“This isn’t an issue just for Mexicans,” Walsh said. “It’s an issue for everyone.”
– Lucio Guerrero
The demonstraters said they hoped Congress would heed their concerns as it addresses immigration reform.
“This is the best way to send our message,” said Jerry Clarito, 55, of the Alliance of Filippinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment. “The people should be consulted and involved in this decision. … This is the way to communicate to Congress.”
– Mark Konkol
Truck drivers honked their horns as the marchers worked their way down Ashland toward Union Park.
“That’s beautiful,” said Alejandro Horbatenko as he put the finishing touches on a sign reading “Give me liberty or give me death” outside his cafe, Buenes Aires Forever at 929 S. Ashland.
Horbatenko came here as an illegal immigrant in 1964, and now owns the cafe and other businesses.
“You must do anything to survive,” he said of his early days here. “We need to help these people. The U.S. must help these people.”
About a block away, a vendor had a “dos for cinco” — two for $5 — special, one U.S. flag and one Mexican flag.
About 30 Korean Americans marched, banging a Kwenggari, a traditional drum farmers use to celebrate the harvest. Such vocal displays are something new for Korean Americans, who generally avoid such demonstrations, they said.
“Asians, we want our rights as well,” said Lester Vicencio, president of the youth council at the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center. “We’re going to speak out a lot here, just to break that stereotype. The kids are passionate about it. And the parents are learning from their kids.”
Susannah Kim, 25, said they brought the Kwengarri because it respresents “the people at the bottom.”
“And that’s what this march is about, the hard-working people coming out to [take] a risk,” she said.
A Nigerian immigrant who came here 10 years ago, Efua Enaholo, 25, said she came out to call for African Americans and Latinos to work together because they face similar challenges, including lack of jobs.
“We’re two different people just walking in the dark that soon will collide if we don’t come up with a common agenda,” Enaholo said.
– Annie Sweeney
Bogdan Macjejczyk, 24, headed toward Grant Park at lunchtime, marching with a group of fellow immigrants who were holding red-and-white Polish flags.
Macjejczyk said he is in the United States illegally. He said he has been here for two years, works in construction and pays taxes.
“I think, for me now, the U.S.A is the best place to be,” Macjejczyk said. Chicago, he said, is “the second capital of Poland. First is Warsaw, and second is Chicago.”
He believes the Sensenbrenner bill criminalizes immigrants. “This is very crazy for me because I don’t steal. I am honest. I am good people.
“Immigrants, they make this country, so why are they trying to make us criminals? I don’t understand.”
– Eric Herman
They came by themselves. They came in groups. They spoke Spanish. They spoke Polish. They wore T-shirts celebrating their native lands. They waved American flags. They banged traditional Korean drums. They wore traditional Aztec garb and blew on a conch.
But no matter what the language or culture, all had the same message.
“We are not criminals here,” said Rodrigo Avilles. “We are not a plague.”
Thousands turned out for the pro-immigration march that began on the Near West Side and was to culminate in rally in Grant Park.
“What would the city of Chicago be without the immigrants here today?” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) asked a crowd of thousands gathering at Union Park.
Gutierrez led the crowd in a chant, “Today we march. Tomorrow we vote.”
– Mark Konkol, Annie Sweeney
Organized labor had a strong presence at the rally.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) spoke at Union Park from the side of a Teamsters truck that opened up like a stage amid waving signs for the SEIU and other unions.
“It’s important to recognize that there is fear out there, there are those who want to turn back the clock,” Obama said. “We have to reach out to those folks and explain to them that our future will be better together than divided.
“Citizenship has its obligations. Citizenship obliges us to have a common purpose. . . . .This movement has to be a movement that lifts up Americas ideals. There is nothing to fear. People who have come here have come here for the same reasons that generations have come — they want a better life for their children.”
“Today, in our armed services, serve tens of thousands of immigrants that are not citizens of the United States,” Gutierrez said. “They pay the highest tax that anyone can pay. They pay tax with their lives and their blood.”
Approximately 2,000 people arrived in SEIU Local 73 buses from Elgin, Cicero and Aurora, said local president Christine Boardman. “We think that immigration rights are also worker rights,” Boardman said. “We understand the role that immigration has played in building up this country and we need some reasonable laws to be passed as opposed to the Sensenbrenner bill.”
Also present at the rally were Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)
– Eric Herman
The diverse face of the city’s immigrant community was on display at one of the march’s starting points, a small triangular plaza at Milwaukee Avenue, Division Street and Chicago Avenue.
“Si, se puede!” the crowd chanted, Spanish for “Yes, we can.”
The crowd of several thousands gathering there shortly after 10 a.m. included people carrying woven bags with Ecuador written on them, T-shirts celebrating Ireland, people wrapped in the red and white Polish flag and Arabs wearing black and white “I am not a terrorist” T-shirts.
“This will turn everything for good,” said Ladyslaw Paluszek, 85, a North Side resident who came here from Poland 28 years ago.
Paluszek heard about the march on Polish language radio and came to support illegal immigrants, arguing it’s unfair to make them pay taxes but not provide them with basic rights.
“This is something wrong,” he said.
Victor Maldonado, 30, and his wife, Anna Joyce, brought their 4-month-old daughter, Angelina.
“Most of my family was illegal when we came here in the â€˜70s,” said Maldonado, whose family came from Mexico and did farm work in California. “It’s so important. It’s human rights.”
Joyce added: “The backbone of this country is built on immigrant labor, and there’s no Social Security. There’s no safety net at all.”
At about 10:30 a.m. the crowd began to march toward Union Park, the Near West Side park that is the march’s main launching point.
American flags snapped in the air, and signs reading “We are not criminals” waved as groups of demonstrators moved into Union Park at Ashland and Ogden.
Rodrigo Avilles of the Southwest Side Brighton Park neighborhood came with his mother, Aurelia, who came here illegally from Mexico. She was so afraid that she would not be able to get back into the United States, that she never went back to Mexico for a visit — not even for her mother’s funeral.
“I had to come,” Avilles said. “I came for my mother. I hope [Congress] realizes that we are not criminals here. We are not a plague. They make it sound like we don’t belong here. We do very good here.”
Today’s march and rally followed a similar effort on March 10, a gathering of more than 100,000 that local organizers say jump-started the national pro-immigration movement.
“It gives me a proud feeling that a national movement began in Chicago because Chicago has always been ahead of the curve,” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told the crowd in Union Park shortly after 11 a.m., calling it “a movement to lift up people.”
“There’s no reason why we cannot have one America,” the South Side Democrat said.
The spark for the demonstrations was a bill that passed the U.S. House in December. Sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the measure sought to make illegal immigration a felony, tighten border security and impose sharp penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
“It’s very important any law passed does not crimialize immigrants or criminalize state employees,” said Jose Lopez, president of the Illinois Association of Hispanic State.
Lopez said the first march “was something that woke up the immigrant community,” but he said this one is even more important than the March 10 event because it is only one of dozens planned today in cities across the nation.
– Annie Sweeney and Mark Konkol
By mid-morning, the southwest corner of Union Park near Randolph and Ashland was jammed people holding pro-amnesty signs and flags — perhaps 60 percent of them American flags, some carrying Mexican banners. Many people were holding both.
The crowd chanted “Si, se puede” (Yes, we can) in English and Spanish, and “Today we March, Tomorrow we Vote.”
Luis Quizhpe, 56, originally from Ecuador, was at the park selling small flags for $2. He offered banners from the United States, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and also the flag of the United Nations. He also was selling larger American flags for $15.
Sales were “equal between Mexico and the U.S. because everyone wants to become a U.S. citizen,” he said.
Quizhpe said he is an American citizen but has many relatives who want to become citizens. “We are not criminals,” he said.
Raquel Garcia, 42, a Cicero maintenance worker who is originally from Guatemala, was at Union Park with her Mexican-born husband Artemio and their son, Jose, who was born in the United States. She waved American and Mexican flags. Garcia is a legal resident who has been in this country for 18 years. She wants to apply to become a citizen.
“We need to have the dignity. We pay taxes. We’re working. We’re not delinquents,” she said. “We don’t have too many opportunities in Mexico or South America.”
Popular signs stated: “Amnistia: Full Rights for all Immigrants” and “Legalize, Don’t Criminalize.”
– Eric Herman
Just past 10:30 this morning, as march preparations intensified at Union Park, traffic on Ogden near the Near West Side park was at a standstill.
And many who had driven in to march from Union Park were parking their cars nearby at the United Center.
A group that started in the hundreds at the corner of Blue Island and Wood grew into the thousands as the group marched closer to Grant Park and this afternoon’s massive immigrants’ rights rally, in a block-long procession on Ashland.
Truckers and CTA buses beeped horns in solidarity as people used their fingers to wave peace signs out of their car windows.
Ashland was a sea of white T-shirts and American flags as the crowd made its way through the heavily Latino neighborhood to downtown shouting in Spanish:
“Que queremos? (What do we want?)”
The group started at Centro Sin Frontera. At the head of the line were 26 workers from Mexico who were arrested and are now facing deportation charges after a raid at the Ifco plant two weeks ago. The members of the group hope the march will help their cause.
“We’re all trying to think positively and hppe there wil be some justice,” said Flor Crisostomo, 27. She has been in the United States for six years and was one of the 26 workers rounded up two weeks ago.,
With each block, more people joined the march, accepting American flags from the organizers.
When the march passed 18th street, the usually bustling Pilsen thoroughfare looked like a ghost town, with businesses closed as far as the eye could see.
– Lucio Guerrero