About 500 protesters marched yesterday from downtown San Diego to Balboa Park to oppose what they view as anti-immigration laws and the “ethnic cleansing” of former Gov. Pete Wilson and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Speaking almost entirely in Spanish, Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, accused Gingrich and Wilson of ethnic cleansing in the former’s support of federal immigration legislation and the latter’s backing of three state propositions. The mention of Wilson’s name brought a chorus of boos from the audience.
Singled out by the protesters were Propositions 187, 209 and 227, as well as Operation Gatekeeper and the federal Immigration Reform Act of 1996.
Huerta, the keynote speaker, said that with more than 1 million Latinos registering to vote in the last election, including 600,000 in California, ” all the politicians are now trying to get the Latino vote.”
She urged the gathering to back candidates who support Latino causes.
Joe Lara, a teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District, noted that one victory already has been achieved.
Lara said the courts recently ruled that Proposition 187, which would have prevented public education and health services for the children of undocumented immigrants, is unconstitutional.
“Proposition 187, 209 (which removes the use of affirmative action in higher education) and 227 (which would all but eliminate bilingual education in the public schools) are attacks on our children,” Lara told the largely Latino audience.
“Our children have a right to be bilingual,” added Lara, who teaches bilingual social studies in the South Bay school district.
Early in his talk, Lara called for all the young children to come and sit before the small stage. The audience applauded the 20 or so youngsters who crouched in front of the stage.
“I’m here because I’m fighting for our children,” Lara said. “We owe it to our children.”
Later, Lara said that although the Latino community lost the popular vote on all three state propositions, the political battles have brought that community together and better prepared it for future political fights.
“The whole purpose of the protest is to show that we are against this wave of propositions and legislation against people living here, and we want the word to reach all the way back to Congress,” said Luz Maria Gonzalez, event coordinator.
The marchers also heard from several speakers who strongly criticized the laws as being illegal and unconstitutional.
The event was organized by the American Friends Service Committee, an international human-rights organization, and the Citizens and Immigrants for Equal Justice.
Attorney Lilia Velasquez, who specializes in immigration law, said the 1996 federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act is especially onerous because it allows for the deportation of immigrants convicted of previous crimes, even if they occurred years ago.
Adrian Sanchez, 30, of Van Nuys has become the poster boy for opposing that federal law. Sanchez told the crowd that because he only has a green card and was convicted of a drug violation nine years ago, he now faces deportation to Mexico.
He received loud applause as he related his tale and was joined on stage by his parents, two sisters and their husbands, and a young nephew. Sanchez said he is worried about what will become of his two children, ages 9 and 2, should his appeal to stay in this country be denied.