Chicago Tribune: Activists Unite, Push for Immigrant Rights

About 3,000 activists at a Saturday rally called for a unified effort for immigrant rights, including expanded education and labor opportunities, that transcends their diverse nationalities and religions.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights convention at Navy Pier was designed to get labor unions, religious leaders, ethnic advocacy groups, elected officials and others on board with a broad-ranging strategic plan.

A key theme of the rally was protecting families, including legalizing undocumented high school students and not splitting up families if one member faces deportation.

Participants said officials touting “family values” should support reform that protects undocumented immigrants and helps legal residents bring relatives into the country.

“This country has got to stop the hypocrisy. This is our country,” said Emma Lozano, executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras, a Latino advocacy group.

The state’s foreign-born population increased 61 percent between 1990 and 2000, adding an infusion of workers into the labor force, but also straining social services, schools and health care, according to U.S. census data. To spur policy changes, the coalition is pushing a campaign to help legal immigrants become U.S. citizens.

Participants literally joined hands in solidarity, saying immigrant groups must not confine activism to their own nationalities.

Juan Salgado, the coalition’s president, said Latinos should fight against government officials who want to profile Muslims because of their religion.

“When Muslims are attacked, we are all Muslims,” said Salgado, who is of Mexican descent.

Likewise, M. Zaher Sahloul of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago urged elected officials to support undocumented Hispanic immigrants. The Bridgeview Mosque even offered a donation for two undocumented Mexican workers who are active in the fight for labor rights.

The event was non-partisan but carried strong political undertones, with speakers primarily training their criticism on Republicans and feting a largely Democratic delegation on stage.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the featured speaker, signed an executive order Saturday creating the Office of New Americans Policy and Advocacy to help shape immigrant policy.

Blagojevich said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger shares his immigrant heritage but has been hostile to the demands of immigrants.

“When it comes to immigrant rights, that governor forgot where he came from and this governor is working with you,” Blagojevich said.

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