Unions lead rally for immigration reform in Minneapolis

Josefina Garcia hoists her daughter Citlalli on her shoulders for a better view of the immigration rally downtown Minneapolis.

Josefina Garcia hoists her daughter Citlalli on her shoulders for a better view of the immigration rally downtown Minneapolis.

The time for bipartisan action to fix the country’s broken immigration system is now, according to a diverse group of more than 100 activists who rallied downtown Minneapolis yesterday for “commonsense” immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.

The event, one of several immigration rallies held across the country yesterday, drew support from unions, business leaders and faith groups. Together, they called on federal lawmakers to send President Obama a bill that will keep families together and protect workers, regardless of their immigration status.

Mike Fernandez, a vice president at Cargill, acknowledged that it will require a level of bipartisanship rarely seen in Washington D.C. But if business and labor can unite behind an issue, he said, members of Congress ought to be able to do the same.

“Collectively, we will make some important history,” Fernandez said.

Geraldine Crece and Luis Sanchez bow their heads during a prayer that opened the rally for immigration reform.

Geraldine Crece and Luis Sanchez bow their heads during a prayer that opened the rally for immigration reform.

Senators from both parties are working together this week on a sweeping immigration bill, and Minnesota’s delegation will play a critical role in advancing the bill. Both Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is likely to hear the measure before any floor vote.

Both senators dispatched representatives to the rally yesterday. Both expressed support for immigration reform.

Erick Garcia Luna said Klobuchar supports “tough, practical and fair” reform with a “reasonable pathway to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. Franken staffer Dan Solomon said his boss “knows our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed.”

That drew cheers from a crowd that included Gloria Castillo, a leader in the faith-based, immigrant-rights group Asamblea de Derechos Civiles. She said a path to citizenship is key to improving the lives of undocumented immigrants now working in the shadows of the U.S. economy.

“We don’t want any more employers who take advantage of their employees because they know they don’t have documented status,” Castillo said.

It’s the same reason unions like the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union and others have thrown their support behind immigration reform.

“Empowering immigrant workers is a win for all working people,” Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said. “Any time any worker anywhere is exploited, it lowers standards for working people everywhere.”

Union members, though, have not been immune to the pitfalls of the current immigration system. About 200 members of SEIU Local 26 were fired in 2010 “for the crime of working,” according to Local 26 President Javier Morillo, after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents audited an area cleaning company.

Despite what appears to be broad-based support for protecting immigrant workers, Morillo warned that powerful interests remain committed to seeing immigration reform fail.

“The members of Local 26 have felt firsthand the effects of our broken immigration system, but for some people our immigration system is working just fine,” he said. “Some people are making a profit by exploiting workers who are scared, or by detaining workers in for-profit prisons. That is wrong.”

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