Immigrants rally in Siler City for justice

by Amy Kingsley

‘“We need a workable immigration system to bring eleven million people out of the shadows of American society,’” said Ilana Dubester, an organizer of the April 10 Immigrant Justice rally in Siler City.

In the sunshine of a clear spring day, about 4,000 of them already had emerged to join the chorus of voices nationwide demanding amnesty for the nation’s millions of illegal immigrants. The gathering in Siler City, which was billed as a statewide event, occurred alongside rallies in Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Raleigh.

Activists around the country organized protests on April 9 and 10, some of which turned out record-setting crowds, to protest legislation that passed the US House of Representatives. The bill calls for a wall along the border and makes illegal immigration a felony. It is currently a violation of immigration law.

Rally participants, many of them young and with children in tow, waved American flags, Farm Labor Organizing Committee banners and homemade signs. The crowd repeatedly unleashed this movement’s slogan: ‘“Si se puede!’” (Yes we can!).

Siler City not only sets smack in the center of the Old North State, the town also hosts an increasingly foreign-born population. The 2000 census categorized 40 percent of the town’s population as Hispanic.

Many of those who attended the rally did not have to travel far. But others drove from Durham, Greensboro and Raleigh to support policies that would legalize the residence of thousands of illegal immigrants in this state.

One family traveled from Sanford to attend the rally. Their son translated for his parents, who had moved from El Salvador 13 years ago. He and his older brother were born in the United States.

‘“We’re here so we can have citizenship,’” he said. ‘“So we can live here and work legally.’”

His parents said they pay taxes and work hard, and just wanted a chance at the American dream.

It was a sentiment echoed by several others at the rally.

‘“This is more like a protest to show the American politicians that they are here, they have been here and they just want the same opportunities as regular Americans,’” said Carlos Guillen, a Mexican-born US citizen from Durham.

He moved to North Carolina five years ago and came to the rally to support fellow immigrants. He works as a server in a restaurant, an industry that brings him into close contact with illegal immigrants who often take low-paying jobs as dishwashers and line cooks.

James Andrews, the president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, welcomed the immigrants rallying in front of City Hall.

‘“We are proud to stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters,’” he said. ‘“America, we have a chance to get it right this time.’”

The National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice rally in Siler City drew no counter protesters, just small groups of curious onlookers who spilled out of their houses. One pickup truck pealed out in front of protesters walking the long road into town, choking them in a cloud of burnt rubber.

Members of the local Hispanic community have felt repercussions from the rally days after the protesters disbanded. Liliana Menjivar, a hostess at Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant, said on April 14 that customers have been talking all week about the protests.

‘“I guess people are pretty confident because they’re seeing this on the news,’” she said.

She moved from Los Angeles about a year ago, where her parents, who are still there, have been taking part in protests, something they’ve never done since they came from El Salvador 21 years ago. Her husband’s family also protested. She said the rallies might be the beginning of more increased political influence by immigrants.

‘“They are really good people,’” Guillen said. ‘“Well, maybe not all of them, but most of them. Really most of hem are just workers looking for a better life.’”

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