SAN JOSE, Calif. — On Sept. 15, the eve of Mexican Independence Day, Bay Area immigrant rights advocates called for recognition of immigrants’ great contributions to California’s economy and culture, challenged those who would deny them their human rights and protested the imminent arrival of armed vigilante groups, including the Minutemen, on the state’s border with Mexico. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was roundly criticized for backing the Minutemen.

At a rally at the Santa Clara County Building, they urged the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution supporting immigrant and human rights. The resolution urges local, state and national leaders to enact fair immigration policy, address the root causes of migration and encourage constructive community dialogue on the issue. It says the Minutemen “create a more dangerous, hostile environment for all immigrants who come here seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families.”

Noting that the county government has “taken the lead in welcoming immigrants and condemning and prosecuting hate crimes,” Supervisor Jim Bell said “the people that are taking the law unto themselves” should “stand down and go through the democratic process.”

Jesus Rosales of the interfaith organization People Acting in Community Together presented over 3,000 letters written by members of nine Santa Clara County churches, asking Schwarzenegger to retract his support for the vigilantes.

“Our governor, himself an immigrant, seems to have forgotten how immigrants have enriched the country socially, culturally and economically,” Rosales said. “We’re sending these letters to the governor next week and we are asking him to send us a response.”

Larisa Casillas of Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) said, “Californians are rejecting drastic measures on immigration” and are seeking “real, sensible solutions to our immigration problems.”

Other speakers included Father John Pedigo of St. Julie Billiart Catholic Church and representatives of the Northern California ACLU and Asian Law Alliance.

Two members of the California-wide SEIU Local 1877 janitors union, Maria and Liberada, told of discrimination immigrants face at work and in housing. “I think if we stopped doing all the jobs where they need us, the economy would suffer,” said Liberada. “It’s our hands that clean and care for everything.”

An evening candlelight vigil in Oakland’s largely Latino Fruitvale district honored the hundreds who have lost their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Participants heard Carlos Mares of La Lucha Unida de los Jornaleros (Day Laborers’ United Struggle) demand “better education, health insurance, driver’s licenses and access to all of the human rights.”

“We continue to struggle against this legacy of hate so future generations will not have to deal with these things,” he said.

“The arrival of the Minutemen is really a symptom of a much bigger problem, of the fact that our immigration policy is broken,” said Sheila Chung, executive director of the Bay Area Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “The solution is not vigilantism,” she said, but comprehensive immigration reform “that includes things like family reunification, civil and workers’ rights, and a path to legal residency and citizenship.”

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