60,000 at Atlanta's Immigrant March

4-19-06, 9:01 am

(APN) ATLANTA – '!Si se puede!' April 10, 2006, will go down as a turning point in our state, where 60,000 immigrants, many of Hispanic origin, and their supporters, joined to show their numbers and to change the hearts and minds of the American people.

'We want to stop being invisible,' Adelina Nicholls, President of the Coordinating Council of Latino Community Leaders, said.

'No more! We are human beings, not machines!' Carlos Valerio, a construction worker from Mexico who now lives in Canton, said. Latinos, especially the undocumented, 'have long been accustomed to keeping our heads down and our backs bent in labor,' he said.

The Atlanta rally was held at Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway. Millions of immigrants are estimated to exist in the United States. If they were granted citizenship at once, the US population would jump by about 3%.

'Now is the time for Congress to enact comprehensive legislation that rewards work, reunites families, restores the rule of law, reinforces our nation's security, respects the rights of US-born and immigrant workers, and redeems the American Dream,' State Rep. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) said.

The turnout in Atlanta far exceeded expectations. Alianza de 17 de Marzo, an ad hoc group of Latino community leaders and organizers of the event, had said they would be pleased if 20,000 showed up.

At noon, Roddy Padilla, a member of the Planning Committee, incredulously announced police were estimating the crowd at 50,000.

Within a half hour, Padilla was back at the microphone telling his jubilant audience the newest estimate was 60,000. This is huge for Atlanta, both in turnout and in the impressive organizing capacity of the Latino community.

Seasoned veterans of past civil and human rights campaigns said they could not remember a larger turnout in Georgia.

The march was part of a nationwide outpouring of demonstrations for dignity and respect for immigrants.

The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives passed a Republican bill in December 2005 that would change illegal immigration from a civil offense to a criminal felony and jail anyone who attempts to aid an undocumented immigrant.

Gladys Rosales, marching down Dresden Drive with her son, Jack, said she has been in the country since 1990.

'I pay my taxes and I've never collected a penny from the government. I'm as good as anyone else in this country and I'm tired of being treated badly,' Rosales said.

Georgia legislators who voted against Senate Bill 529 were invited as special guests. SB 529, recently passed by the Georgia Assembly, requires employers to check the legal status of new employees and requires local law enforcement agencies to report illegal immigrants arrested for felonies or DUI to federal immigration officials.

The initial intent, and still part of the bill sponsored by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), was to deny state-funded benefits such as medical assistance to illegal immigrants.

The health care of thousands of families in Georgia is now at stake, as the bill is now awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature or veto. Several weeks ago, many medical doctors in Georgia raised ethical concerns about the prospects of denying care or playing the role of immigration police.

State Senator Steen Miles (D-Decatur) was one of only two members voting against SB 529 when it was still in Committee.

'The bill doesn't provide for much more than the laws we already have. It simply puts law enforcement and others in the posture of racial or ethnic profiling... essentially targeting a group of people because of their surname, how they look, etc. It is blatantly aimed at Hispanics,' Miles told Atlanta Progressive News.

'If you're Brown, get outta town,' Miles said, summing up the Committee Hearings.

State Senators Sam Zamarippa (D-Atlanta) and Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), and Representatives Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) and Nan Orrock were given heroes' welcomes with thunderous applause as they took the podium.

Zamarippa has recently announced he will leave public office to pursue what he calls global economic opportunities. His seat is being sought by Orrock.

All were clearly touched not only by the huge numbers present but also by the enthusiasm and strong emotions of the crowd.

Their speeches followed a moment of silence for the thousands of immigrants who have died trying to cross the border for the privilege of working here.

Zamarippa thanked the immigrants for their work, their dreams, and their devotion to their families.

'We march with hope in the future of this country,' Zamarippa said. 'American immigrants' faith in their dreams is the most powerful in all the world.'

'Yes, we are a country of laws, but our immigration laws need to be changed,' Zamarippa said.

'You are not alone!' Fort, a leading civil rights activist, said. 'Your struggle is our struggle. We know what it means to be shut out, to be put down.'

Black, Brown, White and Yellow must band together for human dignity, Fort said. 'Tell Sonny Perdue where you stand! In November, we gotta throw that crowd out of the Capitol and have a new Georgia,' Fort said as the audience shouted its approval.

Marin addressed the crowd, telling them he was never more proud to be Hispanic. He noted their hard work, their difficult lives, and announced this was a new day in the history of Georgia.

'Immigration is a defining feature of our history and our future. I'm proud to stand with you as this massive march sends that message yet again,' Orrock told the marchers.

Two Latino women had driven together from Gwinnett County to attend. 'Today, we want to show that we have one voice. We are all from different countries, but today we are united,' Olinda Padilla said.

'This is not only for the future of our children, but for all the children in the world,' Padilla's sister-in-law, Cloti Aquirre, said.

From Atlanta Progressive News

--About the author: Betty Clermont is a Staff Writer covering local issues for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at