Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform clogged the streets of downtown Minneapolis today, joining a “National Day of Action for Dignity and Respect” and amplifying the call for Congress to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.
More than 1,000 people – a crowd heavy on families and children – marched from the Basilica of St. Mary to the plaza outside the Hennepin County Government Center. They carried signs and flags, and put up calls of “Si se puede!” and the mantra of the day, “The time is now.”
Pockets of union members were scattered throughout the crowd, including about 100 members of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 82 and their families, who marched behind their union’s banner.
“We’re here to represent our union – not just members but their families,” Painters organizer Francisco Altamirano said. “It’s a family movement. It’s about human rights and keeping families together. That’s why we need to support immigration reform.”
The Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, UNITE HERE and Education Minnesota also were well represented, and the Minnesota AFL-CIO and regional labor federations from St. Paul and Minneapolis provided logistical support.
The march opened with a prayer vigil, led by diverse collection of religious leaders, on the Basilica steps. It culminated with a rally in Government Plaza. Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26, co-emceed the rally, noting wryly that it was a rare event when he shared the stage with someone from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Immigration reform, though, has support from “a broad group of Minnesota business owners,” Chamber Vice President Bill Blazar told the crowd. The reason, he said, boils down to two words: the economy.
“Minnesota’s economy needs the contribution that immigrants make,” both as workers and as entrepreneurs, Balazar said.
“It is time for all workers to be treated equally under the law,” Minnesota AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Steve Hunter said. Workers are entitled to a safe workplace, wage-and-hour protections and collective-bargaining rights regardless of their immigration status, Hunter added.
Reform efforts have bipartisan support in Congress, and the Senate has passed a bill to modernize the country’s immigration system. The House will do the same only if members hear from their constituents.
“We need people to move a mountain,” said UFCW Local 1161 President Mike Potter, “and we’ve got a mountain to move in Washington, D.C.”