Youth unite in protests against immigration reform

Black community watches closely

By GORDON JACKSON, The Dallas Examiner

Mostly Hispanic students and young adults took a page out of the Civil Right Movement this week to express their opposition to immigration reform bills being debated in the U.S. Congress. Adult leaders gave mixed emotions to their actions as everyone – including African Americans – watched with keen interest as to how it might affect them.

A crowd close to 3,000, estimated by Dallas Independent School District’s security, marched onto Dallas City Hall grounds on Tuesday, the second straight day of protests, with several hundred of them entering into the lobby. Representing up to a dozen North Texas school districts, they came in by car and public buses, chanting “Mexico” and waving Mexican flags. Similar protests were held at several Metroplex locations and have been held in cities across the country.

“We’re here for our parents and grandparents,” said Angela Garcia, a student at Dallas Can Academy. “They came here from Mexico for an opportunity to give us a better life. We’re not criminals.”

The proposed legislation that has so many upset is House Resolution 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. According to published reports, the current debate dates back to President George Bush’s 2001 guest worker program. What has people concerned now is talk of making unauthorized migrants a felon under the proposed law.

Augusto Martinez is worried that if the bill passes it would make it a felony for immigrants to be in the United States illegally, forcing many to return to Mexico.

“I don’t think it’s right for us to go back. If my parents have to go back, who are we going to stay with?” Martinez said. “A lot of people would have to leave school because they would have to go with their parents.”

Adults at the site worked to calm the students down and persuaded them to return to school. They were, however, pleased with their spirit of protesting for a cause.

“We need the kids to know, number one, it’s fantastic that they’re raising their voice and letting their concerns be heard,” said Diana Flores, a Dallas County Community College District board trustee. “But a school day is not the day to do it.”

Jesse Diaz, president of the Dallas LULAC Council, had to quell about 300 students marching across his real estate office in Mesquite.

“There’s a time and place. (City Hall) was the place but it wasn’t the right time,” Diaz said. “They had no leadership or direction. It only takes the actions of a few for things to get out of control. There was a lot of emotion.”

The protestors received the sympathy of a small number of African Americans who participated in the march.

“They’re hurting the kids by passing this law. I feel they’re overlooking the constitution,” said Whylie Nunn, 27. Having studied about the Civil Rights Movement, he related with the activists.

“I feel I’ve been suppressed on a lot of issues,” said Nunn. “They’re out here to support a cause that they know all of their people are affected. That shows unity.”

The illegal immigrant issue has been a hotbed topic. Even at urban radio shows with a predominantly African American audience, the subject dominated calls. Some opposed the possible felony law, but many were not as sympathetic.

Bob Lydia, branch president of the Dallas NAACP, has not made an official position because they have not received approval from the national office. He said there are problems on both sides of the issues. The branch, however, supports the basic right for people to assemble.

“We just think we [Blacks] would do it differently,” Lydia said.

Lydia empathizes with Martinez’s situation where one person may be illegal while their offspring may be a U.S. citizen.

“Are they to leave and come back several years later?” Lydia asked. “What happens to their families and their jobs?”

Samni Akinmulero, president of the African Chamber of Commerce, also opposes the felony phase of the immigration bill. Stating that most African immigrants are here legally, it would still make some form of impact with the 150,000 native Africans living in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“It’s not only the Hispanics that are afraid, it’s also Africans,” Akinmulero said. “We are looking at the bill with conscious. When the proper time comes, we will let our opinion be known.”

Unauthorized Mexican migrants make up 56 percent of all illegal immigrants in the country, estimated to total between 11 and 12 million.

Senators agreed Tuesday to delay their discussion on immigration reform until today or Friday. Lawmakers are divided between making illegal immigration a felony and building a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border or creating a guest worker program that would give illegal immigrants a chance to gain U.S. citizenship.

Betty Culbreath, former Dallas County health director, stated that a proposal she heard from Sen. John Cornyn of a five-year guest worker program is too long.

“If you give a person five years, they’re going to establish ties, their residence and have children. Then you expect them to go back?” said Culbreath, who said that it should be shortened to about three years.

Culbreath also opposes allowing the immigrants any chance of a dual citizenship. While not necessarily in agreement with making illegal immigration a felony, it should at least be a misdemeanor.

“I believe there should be some sense of criminal punishment attached to it,” Culbreath said. “Then they would take it more seriously.”

LULAC is organizing a mass rally set for April 9. Participants will march from Cathedral Guadalupe Catholic Church on Ross and Pearl to City Hall. An exact time has not been set.

Andre Coe also contributed to this article.

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