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Latinos Marching in Capital for Immigrant Rights, Respect

October 12, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Waving flags of Mexico, El Salvador and other Latin countries, thousands of Hispanic-Americans gathered in the capital today in a loud and jubilant rally to push for simplified citizenship procedures, a $7 minimum wage and justice.

Mobilized by new and more stringent welfare and immigration laws and what they see as growing anti-newcomer sentiment, they were setting off on the first national march for Latino and immigrant rights.

``We have to cut the edge off the xenophobia that is being created in this country,″ said Juan Jose Bocanegra of Seattle, a member of the coordinating committee, Coordinadora ’96. ``We’re not here to be bashed around like pinatas. We demand respect.″

The march’s midmorning takeoff was delayed an hour as flag-waving ralliers cheered and danced to blaring Latin music at a park in a largely Hispanic neighborhood.

Labor organizer Jaime Martinez, a rally speaker, shouted with crowd: ``Somos une pueblo sin fronteras″ (We are a people without borders) and ``Viva los trabajadores″ (Long live the workers). Signs said in English: ``Justice Now.″ ``Candidates Beware _ Don’t Take Hispanics for Granted.″ ``Fight Power with Power.″

Among participants were delegations from Detroit, representing the United Mine Workers union, the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Illinois. A big delegation was bused in from San Antonio.

Bocanegra said marchers were coming from 39 states, with big groups traveling from New York, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Houston, Seattle, Little Rock, Ark.; and Portland, Ore.

``For a long time, people have said this community’s a sleeping giant,″ said organizer Fabian Nunez. ``Well, it’s waking up now.″

Latinos arriving in Washington on Friday night said they came to show that they deserve respect not shown in recent legislative efforts to end a variety of immigrant benefits.

``We work, we go to school, we’re just like everyone else,″ said Carlos Lizarraga of Los Angeles. ``We’re looking to be respected and recognized.″

At a rally in Tucson, Ariz., earlier this week, community activist Hector Alvardo said, ``We know this march isn’t going to create miracles. But this will help organize us, unite us and prepare us to get out and vote.″

Anger boiled over in New York City’s Hispanic community this week after a police officer charged in the choking death of Anthony Baez was acquitted. About 200 protesters marched to the police precinct in the South Bronx neighborhood where the Baez family lives, carrying signs and chanting anti-police slogans in English and Spanish.

Many shouted ``Sin justicia, no hay paz″ and its English equivalent, ``No peace without justice,″ and ``Asesino policia″ (``killer cop″). No arrests or incidents were reported.

The starting point for today’s march is near the site of riots in May 1991, when resentment by Hispanic residents against the police erupted into two nights of violence.

Landmark legislation to crack down on illegal immigration, including a doubling of the size of the Border Patrol, cleared Congress last month. In negotiations with White House officials, Republican lawmakers agreed to limit the degree to which legal immigrants would be susceptible to losing certain benefits after a year on welfare.

March organizers said they were relieved that some of the harsher provisions were taken out but they remained concerned about the effect of the laws on the Latino community.

Also in the march’s platform: human and constitutional rights for all, equal opportunities and affirmative action, free public education for all from kindergarten through university, expanded health services, citizen police review boards and labor law reform.

The list of speakers at a rally to follow included AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson; Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., president of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; and Roberto Maestas, executive director of El Centro de la Raza.

Carlos Santana, Willie Colon, Aztec Generation and other musicians were scheduled to entertain the crowd. Actors Rita Moreno, Ruben Blades and Edward Olmos as well as the comedy-acting troupe Culture Clash also were expected to participate.

A group opposed to the Latino proposals for amnesty for illegal aliens and the minimum wage says a $7 minimum would squeeze lower-wage earners out of the job market.

In addition, extending amnesty would provide a ``get-out-of-jail-free ticket″ to thousands of illegal aliens, said James Robb, a researcher in Washington for Social Contract magazine. Bill King, a former Border Patrol official, is a leader of the group.

Under a federal law enacted in August, the hourly minimum increased from $4.25 to $4.75 on Oct. 1 and is scheduled to rise to $5.15 next September.

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