May Day rally draws hundreds in support of immigration reform

Supporters of immigration reform rally on the Minnesota Capitol lawn.

Supporters of immigration reform rally on the Minnesota Capitol lawn.

Chants of “si se puede!” rang out from the Minnesota Capitol lawn yesterday, as hundreds of people rallied for federal and state action to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

The May Day demonstration in St. Paul was one of dozens held across the U.S., organized by a broad coalition of groups – including labor unions – hoping to capitalize on growing momentum in support of a reform package that creates a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants now living and working in the shadows.

mayday-signs-webIn Washington the Senate Judiciairy Committee is debating an immigration reform bill that has bipartisan backing. Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken sit on the committee, and both sent staffers to the rally to reiterate their support.

Meanwhile, demonstrators cheered state senators who voted earlier in the day to pass the Minnesota Dream Act, legislation that would make children of undocumented immigrants eligible for financial aid at the state’s public colleges and universities.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, a DFLer from St. Paul, told the crowd he hoped the Minnesota House would follow the Senate’s lead. “It’s the value of dignity that pulls us together, that brings us here today,” Mariani said. “It’s that same dignity our government representatives need to acknowledge.”

Other speakers at the rally expressed support for state legislation that would enable undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Advocates say the measure would help keep uninsured drivers off the road.

May 1 is International Workers’ Day, a commemoration of the global struggle for labor rights and a public holiday in more than 80 countries worldwide. For the past decade, immigrant groups – particularly the Latino community – in the U.S. have used May 1 as a date for rallies and other public actions, including a general strike and boycott in 2006.

This year unions threw their resources behind the May Day immigration rallies, and union members bolstered the number of demonstrators at events nationwide, including in St. Paul. Groups that participated in yesterday’s rally included the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Education Minnesota, the SEIU Minnesota State Council, UNITE HERE Local 17, UFCW Local 1189 and the Organizing Apprenticeship Project.

“Immigrant workers need to have the same mobility as any other worker to move from one employer to another as better opportunities arise,” Minnesota AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Steve Hunter said. “When an employee is tied to a specific employer to maintain his or her status, that employee can be subject to intimidation, exploitation and abuse in the workplace, which drives down wages and working conditions for everyone.”

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