On the Shoulders of Illegal Forefathers

Thousands Protest Proposed Immigration Law

At least 2,000 people came out in the rain last Saturday to oppose HR4437, the draconian immigration bill under consideration by the Senate. Chanting protesters marched from De la Guerra Plaza to Alameda Park, where they listened to speeches for another hour. Passed by the House of Representatives last December, the bill emphasizes stringent border enforcement and criminalization of undocumented workers.

At Alameda Park, Yolanda Medina and Margarita Guerrera, legal residents who have worked at Mission Linen for 25 years and 29 years respectively, came out with other members of their congregation from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “We are helping those who do not have documents,” said Medina. “They are not here to commit crimes,” added Guerrera. “They are here to work.”

North County PUEBLO organizer Raphaela Moreno screamed into the microphone, “This is a political action,” urging undocumented workers to let their voices be heard and reminding them that politics does not necessarily equal corruption. Organized by PUEBLO, the Santa Barbara march coincided with national demonstrations including a Los Angeles rally that drew a reported 500,000 people and was followed by further demonstrations Sunday in which demonstrators shut down Los Angeles freeways. At a Washington, D.C. rally several days prior, farm owners were among those protesting bills that focused on stricter border control.

Terri Bontrager, executive director of the Santa Barbara Farm Bureau, estimated that tougher border enforcement measures had already reduced the farm workforce by 20 percent or more. Bontrager noted that it keeps getting harder to cross the border. “We have workers who haven’t been home for four or five years,” Bontrager said, including husbands and wives whose children are being raised by relatives in Mexico. American farmers, meanwhile, endure spot labor shortages; harvests suffer when the migrant workers whom farmers rely on are unavailable when crops are ready. “We are going to have foreigners picking our fruit,” said Bontrager. “Either here or in China. I’m not saying other countries don’t pick beautiful crops — they do — but we don’t know what pesticides [they use].”

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced a bill less prohibitive than HR4437 (see commentary by Nelson Harvey on p. 23) but the immigration debate was hardly resolved. Doug Mosebar, a Santa Ynez farmer and president of the Santa Barbara Farm Bureau Federation, published a letter on the organization’s Web site ( urging agriculturalists to pressure Washington for guest worker legislation that would allow farmworkers to easily renew their temporary status and to travel freely between the U.S. and their countries of origin.

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