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Public Witness: Immigration Rights

Rev. Nina Grey and demonstrators at immigration rally.
Rev. Nina Grey, Lynn Hanson, Lee Marie Sanchez at Immigration Rights demonstration in Portland, OR.

General Assembly 2007 Event 5021a

Si Se Puede: Yes, We Can

Shortly before the conclusion of General Assembly, on Sunday afternoon, Unitarian Universalist President William Sinkford joined other immigration rights advocates for a rally outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in downtown Portland. A crowd of about three hundred attended the event although the afternoon was peppered with soaking cloudbursts. Individuals were welcomed by organizers and offered signs to hold. The crowd itself was a mix of ages, ethnicities, and political sensibilities. A group of young Black Block anarchists stood side by side with some Catholic priests, watching as a small contingent of Portland Police kept an eye on the proceedings. A number of rally goers were holding signs and the crowd periodically broke into chants of "Si Se Puede!"("Yes, We Can").

The rally was held in response to a June 12th raid at the Fresh Del Monte Produce fruit and vegetable processing plant in North Portland. News reports indicated that the raid resulted in one hundred sixty five detentions of undocumented workers and three arrests. Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition (PIRC), the organizer of Sunday's event, invited a number of speakers from all walks of life.

Teachers, faith community leaders, immigration lawyers and detainees were there to share their responses to current immigration policies and speak about their own experiences, with translations in English and in Spanish. Reverend Sinkford told the group that the issue of immigrant workers rights was an important one to Unitarian Universalists. He speculated that as he was speaking, the delegates of the General Assembly were almost certainly voting for the Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) on these injustices. Reverend Sinkford assured those gathered that more than five thousand Unitarian Universalists would be taking that message to their home congregations, educating and enlisting others in the cause of fair and just immigration policies. Those five thousand and the others they inform can influence policy as the elected representatives of our nation take up this issue.

Unitarian Universalists from around the country joined the rally as well. They came because they wanted to know more, because they wanted to witness that "that no human being is illegal" and because, as one stated, "We need to get out of our heads and into the streets". The Reverend Nina Grey observed that President Sinkford's speech seemed very well received and inspiring to the crowd as well as to herself. Reverend Lee Marie Sanchez is consulting to a church in which half the population is latino/latina and that currently is putting financial and community resources into supporting families against harassment. "And the witnesses for their cause can't come forward because they're undocumented." Social justice coordinator Lynn Hanson wants to raise the awareness of this issue and the work that a number of communities, hers among them, are doing in the local and national sanctuary movement.

PIRC organizer Daniel Denvir was pleased with the energy and attendance at the rally. "We need to be strong allies to each other," he said. "We need to not let the raids terrorize us into inaction. And we need to send a strong message to the government on this issue."

As the group prepared to march to Pioneer Square and then hear another round of speakers, the final pre-march speaker gave rally-goers more information about a previous speaker. The woman she referred to has been under electronic surveillance and was attending (and speaking at) the rally with an ankle bracelet on her leg. The ankle bracelet has the name of the company which manufactured it, a phone number and the word "REWARD." The name of the woman who wore the bracelet appeared nowhere.

Reported by Rebecca Kelly-Morgan; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.