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Illegals Issue Here Crosses Border Into Public Awareness

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One million marchers in Los Angeles. Half a million in Dallas.

One hundred in Pittsburgh.

 

Despite the numbers, organizers were pleased with the turnout for their Downtown rally for the rights of undocumented immigrants. At the April 10 demonstration, marchers carried signs reading, "We Are All Americans," "Welcome the Persecuted" and "No Human Being Is Illegal." The event was part of a national protest day prompted by a U.S. Senate struggle over whether to grant immigrants more rights to citizenship.

 

Immigration here is the "same issue -- big issue" as it is across the country, says Marisa Manheim of Pittsburgh Friends of Immigrants for Immigrants' Rights, which led the march. "Just a smaller population. And maybe more in the shadows."

 

"Yesterday I was in church in Oakland full of Hispanic people, and none of them came" to the rally, marveled Linda Yepez of McKees Rocks. "I expected more. I was kind of disappointed. The majority of them didn't come. They're afraid."

 

Yepez's husband, Gilberto, is a recent Mexican legal immigrant who also attended the event with the couple's son "to support our people," Gilberto said.

 

Linda Yepez, who teaches English as a second language in the Sto-Rox School District, says she hopes Congress will help "the people get what they're asking for, that they get to come here and work and not be afraid. Our people deserve the American dream too. We're not criminals, we're not terrorists, we're human beings. And we have a right to be here."

 

"We need to have the most recent of immigrants fighting for this," added Yinka Aganga Williams, a permanent resident from Nigeria. "Those who have [gained] citizenship in the last 10 to 20 years ... where are they? It is still their cause."

 

Williams is program director for the Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach of St. Benedict the Moor Roman Catholic Church, in the Hill District. The group helps African and Caribbean immigrants to navigate American culture while advocating for their rights. Her main concern is the separation of immigrants from their families: Illegal immigrants have a difficult returning to their native countries even for brief visits, she says.

 

"Americans are taking the lead in talking about democracy all over the world," says Williams, "and here is where freedom is most important."

 

Acculturation ought to work both ways, she contends ... on the immigrants and their new neighbors: "Unfortunately, there is no government program to acculturate those who are supposed to welcome them," she says.

 

Concluded Matt Richards, one of several members of the Service Employees International Union joining the rally: "[I]f immigrants are going to come here and work hard, they should have the same rights as other workers ... a voice on the job and a vote at the ballot box."

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