April 12 - 19, 2006
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Aldo Periche came to the United States from Peru eight years ago. He works long hours as an electrician but took Monday afternoon off to join with other recent immigrants throughout the region for a march through the streets of Downtown Hartford and a rally at the State Capitol.
As the speakers made their speeches and the crowd chanted its slogans, Periche and his wife sat a short distance away on the Capitol lawn, playing with their two children. “I came to the march to support people like us,” Periche said. “In America I can make enough money to educate my kids, that’s what it’s all about,” he said, pointing to his two children.
Hartford’s march was one of many held throughout the country this past Sunday and Monday to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of persons now residing in the United States who have entered the country illegally.
The “immigrant question” has been debated in America in one way or another since the first European settlers arrived on these shores over 500 years ago.
The recent series of marches was inspired by legislation proposed in the U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives passed a bill that would make being in the U.S. without the proper papers a felony. The U.S. Senate, on the other hand, was unable to come to an agreement on a bill that would have given immigrants who have come into the country illegally a chance to obtain citizenship.
The threat, however distant, of criminal prosecution for immigrants who have otherwise complied with the laws of the land was behind the chant, “Immigrants aren’t criminals,” which was repeated over and over again as the march proceeded down Main Street and up Capitol Avenue.
Although the event closed down these major thoroughfares to traffic just as the afternoon rush hour was beginning, most motorists waiting for the march to go by only appeared to be slightly annoyed but not angry. Several cars going by honked their horns in support of the marchers, who carried signs with messages such as, “We are all immigrants,” “Only Native Americans are not immigrants in the USA,” and “We Love America.” Many marchers waved American flags and others carried white flags as a symbol of solidarity.“We work here. We do business here. We pay taxes here. We just want our rights. We want to be treated with dignity,” said Lorena Gassner, a local businesswoman and a native of Ecuador. Like many at the march, Gassner wore a sticker reading “Day of Dignity.”
Although immigrants currently in the U.S. – both legally and illegally – come from virtually every nation on earth, most of the marchers appeared to be from Central and South America, a fact remarked upon by Hartford resident Mohamoud Ahmed, a native of Somalia. “Where are all the other Somalians? Where are the Jamaicans? Where are the Bosnians?” asked Ahmet.
A broad range of nationalities were represented by the speakers at the State Capitol, including former Hartford Deputy Mayor Nick Carbone, U.S. Congressman John Larson and State Representative Evelyn Mantilla.