from Common Dreams

A smaller than expected but boisterous crowd marched from Roseland to downtown Santa Rosa on Sunday, invoking Cesar Chavez’s name in demands for changes in immigration laws. An estimated 1,500 demonstrators waved “Si Se Puede” (Yes we can) signs and carried banners saying “Stop immigration raids.”

Carrying both Mexican and American flags, demonstrators led a procession that kicked off with speakers urging changes in immigration laws and demanding respect for immigrants working in the United States, legally or not.

United Farm Workers organizer Roberto Garcia called the rally a celebration of the life and work of UFW founder Chavez, who died in 1993 at age 66.

“Within that, we are fighting for current issues of farmworkers, including immigration reform,” Garcia said. “Our immigration laws are broken.

“We have a large workforce living in the shadows,” he said. “These are people who are not allowed to fully participate in American society. We want to help build that bridge.”

State government offices and courts are closed today to commemorate Cesar Chavez Day.

Between 2,000 and 5,000 marchers were expected, and police prepared for possible counter-demonstrators. Past immigration marches in Sonoma County have drawn as many as 10,000 people.

The march and rally came on the heels of a Saturday conference sponsored by the Eagle Forum, which decried illegal immigration. About 200 people from throughout the state attended the session at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park.

Another pro-immigration-themed march is scheduled for May 1 in Santa Rosa. Police said an opposition group has applied for a permit to protest that day.

There were no apparent opponents Sunday along the 1½-mile parade route, which started on Sebastopol Road, wound through Railroad Square and ended at Old Courthouse Square.

“We expected some protesters, but we didn’t see any at all,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Gary Negri said. “There were absolutely no incidents at all.”

Officers on bicycles and motorcycles and in squad cars escorted the sign-toting, drum-banging crowd through intersections, halting traffic in one direction at times. No roads were closed for more than 15 minutes.

As a crowd formed in the Roseland Village shopping center at West Avenue, Elizabeth Padilla, 12, held aloft a sign that read: “I am fighting for my dream.”

In both English and Spanish, she said the sentiment meant “respect” for her and her family. Demonstrating with her were her mother and sister.

Robert Morales, 14, a member of the Santa Rosa Junior College MEChA club, gathered signatures for a petition seeking to change the name of Sebastopol Road to honor Chavez.

“He helped my family get work,” Morales said, saying his grandparents and great-grandparents came to the United States from Mexico.
Some marchers hoped to turn Sonoma County into a “refuge” for undocumented immigrants, similar to San Francisco’s declaration of “sanctuary.”

Richard Coshnear, a Santa Rosa attorney and member of the Committee for Immigrant Rights, said his group is asking county leaders to order the Sheriff’s Department to “not do anything more than required by law to support deportation.”

He said that includes asking the sheriff not to jail people whose only violation is suspected illegal immigration and ordering deputies not to collaborate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

At Old Courthouse Square, Yonathan Castillo, 20, carried a small American flag and wore a larger one around his shoulders.

“I’m wearing this because I support equality between the countries,” he said, his voice hoarse from chanting during the march. “Justice equals equality.”

Castillo, an immigrant from El Salvador who has been in the United States for four years, came to the rally with three friends from the Club Hispano-Americano at Napa Valley College.

Cesar Arriola, 18, Juan Velasquez, 18, and René Zamudio, 21, said the club raises money for scholarships for Latinos.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or

© 2008 The Press Democrat