Tuesday, September 05, 2006

March ends at Hastert office

March ends at Hastert office
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
September 5, 2006

Their 50-mile march has ended, but their work to change U.S. immigration policies is just starting, activists said Monday during a raucous rally in Batavia.

About 300 marchers ended their four-day trek from Chicago by gathering with other activists outside the suburban office of U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to press for sweeping immigration reforms.

"It was a long walk. It was a hard walk," Gabriel Gonzalez, one of the leaders of the march, said, while acknowledging that the high-profile protest must be followed up by other political action.

"It's not enough to march. We have to vote," said Gonzalez, Midwest organizer for the Center for Community Change.

Police estimated about 1,500 to 2,000 marchers and supporters turned out for the rally, which took place outside Hastert's district office in downtown Batavia. Rally organizers contended more than 2,000 people were present.

A noisy counter-demonstration nearby drew more than 150 people, Batavia police said.

Activists want Hastert to back policy changes that would allow immigrants to enter the country legally to work, end deportations of undocumented workers and provide a way for all immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens.

Marchers -- who came from a wide variety of labor, social, religious and immigrants' rights groups -- said they were encouraged by the cheers and support they received even in conservative suburban areas as they walked.

'Wasn't a lot of hostility'

"It was encouraging," said Becky Belcore, one of eight marchers from the Korean-American Resource and Cultural Center in Chicago. "There really wasn't a lot of hostility."

Despite sore feet and legs, Belcore, 34, said she was glad to have made the trek, in part because so many different groups were involved.

"It was quite an experience to spend time with all the other groups," she said. "It was definitely worthwhile."

Counter-demonstrators waved signs urging Hastert to continue to oppose any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Some yelled "March back to Mexico" as immigrant reform groups passed by; those marchers responded with chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A."

One counter-protester said she believes illegal immigrants are making it more difficult for U.S. residents to find work.

"They are taking over," said Vicky Stephenson of Aurora.

Dozens of police officers from Batavia and a handful of other suburban departments -- many wearing riot gear -- kept the two sides separated. There were no arrests, Batavia police Cmdr. Gregory Thrun said.

Hastert wasn't at his office during the rally, but his spokesman said immigration reform remains "a top priority."

Hastert, though, remains opposed to offering amnesty to immigrants in the U.S. illegally and believes any changes must begin with measures to better control the nation's borders, spokesman Brad Hahn said.

'Against our values'

"It's a matter of how we can most effectively secure our borders and strengthen our immigration system," Hahn said, adding immigration reform likely will be discussed when Congress reconvenes this week.

No reform is possible without halting deportations or allowing all immigrants a chance to gain legal status, some marchers said.

"We want as soon as possible to get some resolution to our problems, especially separating families [by deportations]. That's against our values," said Arturo Aguilar of Joliet, part of a contingent that spent three days marching from the Will County city to join Monday's rally.

Aguilar, 55, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said the rally must be followed by more political action.

"Now it's time to vote," he said.



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