On March 21, immigration-reform proponents all over the country, from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, will march in honor of Cesar Chavez and to support passage this year of comprehensive immigration reform. In recent years, the annual march in Santa Rosa has brought as many as 15,000 participants. This year's march is expected to meet or top that figure.
It also stands in protest against a recently announced Sonoma County program which would allow anyone arrested by the Sheriff's Department to be screened by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. Sonoma County sheriffs are rare in the Bay Area for currently allowing ICE officials to accompany them on daily rounds.
"We are very angry about this decision," says Casimiro Alvarez, president of the local United Farm Workers and organizer of the parade. "We are demanding to end the collaboration between ICE and the sheriff. We are the focus of discrimination, and we need to send a message to the people what this legislation means in Sonoma County."
Alvarez says that of the 7,000 agricultural workers in Sonoma County, including farm workers and vineyard labor, 80 percent are undocumented. "What do you think is going to happen in the county if all these workers don't go to work on the farm or in the fields?" Alvarez asks. "It's going to affect the economy. And if the sheriff is continuing to arrest these people, and continuing to report to ICE, it's going to cause a big impact in the economic situation. And it's not just the agriculture industry. It's construction, restaurants, hotels . . . There are so many other industries that are in the same situation."
Comprehensive immigration reform has been delayed for years in the United States, and it's the UFW's hope that President Obama can abide by his campaign promises to fix the system as soon as possible. The fallout from delayed reform is perhaps most annually evident when a group of protesters demonstrates against the UFW's march.
"We face the anti-immigrant attacks, always. Every year," Alvarez says. "And always, we ignore them. We aren't going to give them attention. We send the message via radio, via press conference, to ignore it. We have to keep marching! We have to keep pushing our necessities! Right now, the immigration issue is broken. It's not working, and we don't want to continue the family separation. We have to be very strongly united."
The Cesar Chavez March for Immigration Reform begins on Sunday, March 21, at noon in the Roseland Shopping Center parking lot, 665 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, and continues to Courthouse Square for a rally, live music and family entertainment. Free. 707.528.3039.