ROCK ISLAND -- An estimated 2,000 people, most of them Hispanic, skipped classes and work Monday to march from downtown Rock Island to Davenport's LeClaire Park in support of immigrant rights.
The march and following rally were part of the national Day Without Immigrants observances designed to draw attention to the problems of those in America illegally and to protest proposals to make entering the country illegally a felony. All immigrants, legal and otherwise, were urged to close their shops and avoid buying anything Monday to show their economic impact.
In downtown Rock Island, the reasons for marching were as varied as the people themselves. While some wanted full amnesty for illegal immigrants, others wanted a stable guest-worker program. Still others wanted the government to change the process of applying for residency and citizenship to make it easier and faster.
All the marchers, though, demanded that any reforms be fair and respectful. For the most part, that meant rallying against legislation that would make illegal immigration a felony.
"It's an unrealistic idea," said Lillian Lara, of Moline. "I was born here in Davenport, but I came to support all the others. I'm hoping for fair reform. As long as they respect our human rights, I'll accept" the legislation.
Dressed in white T-shirts to symbolize peace and unity, marchers began walking from St. Joseph's Catholic Church, downtown Rock Island, and over the Centennial Bridge shortly after 1 p.m. Monday. As the first people filed into LeClaire Park's outdoor theater nearly an hour later, a solid line of people still stretched across the entire length of the bridge -- with more coming.
Del Sancen has been in the United States for 16 years and spent most of that time in Bettendorf. He is an American citizen and currently owns his own business in Muscatine. He believes this issue is a delicate one.
"This issue has been the same issue for who knows how long," said Mr. Sancen, who acknowledges that he was once an illegal immigrant. Mr. Sancen said many immigrants didn't show up at the march because of threats they'd lose their jobs. For that reason alone, Mr. Sancen thought it was important to be there and show support.
Laticia Ramirez emigrated from Mexico in 1981 and met her husband, Santiago, a few years after he came to the U.S. in 1982. The couple said they worked hard for five years before being granted legal residency, and it was at least another five years before they gained citizenship, but they never stopped working and never gave up.
Mr. Ramirez said all he wants is for the American public to give immigrants like himself a chance to prove they can provide services and contribute to the community.
Mrs. Ramirez agreed, saying her husband "used to work two jobs, overtime, six or seven days a week. We try to teach our kids to go to college and to not depend on welfare or food stamps, that's not what we're here for."
Dr. Enrique Bringas, a family practice physician in Moline, knows firsthand how frustrating working with immigration services can be.
"For exactly five weeks my paperwork was lost," he said. "I was worried, very worried."
Dr. Bringas said he's been a legal resident for 15 years, but once his paperwork was lost so was his job.
He said he called immigration services many times but was denied any information. "Immigration doesn't give you any information, nothing. You have to get a good lawyer," he said.
U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, eventually made a phone call to immigration services on behalf of Dr. Bringas, and the mess was sorted out.
Dr. Bringas was eligible to return to work Monday, but as he made his way to the Centennial Bridge he smiled. "I'm not going to work today, I'm going to work tomorrow."
He is working on becoming a U.S. citizen, but he expects the process will take another three years.
"It is more than frustrating," he said of the amount of time it takes to be naturalized. "You can go (to immigration services) 20 times and they never give you any information. They need to change all the procedures and give more information to the people, not only lawyers."
In LeClaire Park, the crowd was met with music and people chanting phrases such as "Hey, Bush, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" which means "Hey, Bush, listen! We're in the fight!"
Various community speakers urged the crowd to vote for Democratic candidates in the next elections. Information on how to contact their legislators also was distributed before the marchers made their way back over the bridge.
Rock island, IL Details
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