LRT: Ten Year Anniversary of March in support of Driver’s Licenses

In marking the 10 year anniversary of the recall of Davis, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s immediate repeal of the driver’s license bill that Davis had signed, we remember Padre Luis Angel Nieto, the 17 students from my Rural and Urban Social Movements class, and the many day laborers from the PEOC who led a four-day march from Claremont to Los Angeles in 2003 (see the article that appeared in the L. A. Times below).

LOS ANGELES

Activists Walk 4 Days for Right to Drive

Rally against the repeal of a law to grant licenses to illegal immigrants caps a 50-mile march.

By Daniel Hernandez

Times Staff Writer

December 8, 2003

Saying they will not be deterred by recent setbacks against driving rights for undocumented immigrants, several hundred immigrants and their supporters capped a four-day march from Claremont to downtown Los Angeles on Sunday with a rally in front of the Federal Building.

“Whether they like it or not, we are a part of this society. We are part of California,” Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA, said to loud cheers. “We’re not going to give up. We’re going to continue.”

The event, organized by the Pomona-based Latino Roundtable, was dubbed a “Pilgrimage for Human Rights,” and many speakers and organizers said it demonstrated the broader significance that grass-roots Latino groups are attaching to the debate over granting access to driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

Activists said the push for the licenses is part of a larger agenda to ensure that immigrant workers receive equal rights in exchange for their labor.

The driver’s license law, known by its legislative abbreviation as SB 60, was signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis at the height of the campaign to recall him. The state Legislature repealed the law last week under the threat of a referendum vote. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has hinted to some legislators that he might consider supporting a new version of the law next year.

The 50-mile march started Thursday morning at a Catholic church in Claremont, and passed through 27 cities, organizers said.

It stopped at parishes in Valinda, El Monte and Monterey Park before reaching the Olvera Street plaza and La Placita Church for another rally and Sunday Mass. Afterward, more than 200 people stood in a chilly wind to hear speakers at the downtown Federal Building.

Jose Calderon, president of the Latino Roundtable and a sociologist at Pitzer College, said an estimated 1,000 people participated in the march at some point over the four days.

Marchers held signs with messages such as “We’re a community without borders,” while others hollered chants critical of Schwarzenegger. Union members, day laborers and students waved the red flag of the United Farm Workers.

“It’s a pilgrimage to make the statement that, look, immigrants are the backbone of our labor, the backbone of our society and, with that, immigrants are demanding certain basic human rights,” Julie Rodriguez, an organizer with the Cesar Chavez Foundation in Glendale, said while marching Sunday.

Many marchers and organizers, however, acknowledged the unpopularity of the driver’s license law. On Sunday, some expressed fear that anti-illegal-immigrant sentiment will flourish as the economy founders.

When the economy is suffering, some said, negative attention is placed on immigrant workers for what some describe as the drain they put on the state’s social service agencies.

“At a time when there’s an economic downturn, the immigrants are always blamed. But we know immigrants contribute more than they take out. Studies show it,” Calderon said while marching near Union Station.

CHIRLA organizer Richard Moreno said the push for immigrants’ rights goes beyond driver’s licenses.

“It’s a broader umbrella. Education, health care. We don’t want to go back to the ’90s, to Proposition 187,” Moreno said, referring to the 1994 ballot initiative that sought to restrict access to schools and health care for illegal immigrants but was overturned by the courts. “This is a symbolic message that our community won’t be silent. The same people who use anti-immigrant rhetoric are some that benefit from the cheap labor. It’s hypocrisy.”

Many of the marchers were immigrant workers from the Pomona Day Labor Center and students from the Claremont colleges. 

Pedro Tobar, a 23-year-old Ontario factory worker, said he trekked through the last leg of the march to show his support for the law, despite his feelings that its future looks grim.

“They’ve taken my car away three times in the last three years,” said Tobar, a married father who commutes to his job in Santa Ana after dropping off his children at school in Ontario. “We need licenses. Not to do bad things. We need to get to work, take our kids to school. If we don’t work, we don’t eat.”

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