PORTLAND – More than 300 people marched from Lincoln Park to Monument Square late Wednesday afternoon and staged a boisterous rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

Marching behind a police cruiser along Congress Street past City Hall, the crowd chanted, “We say no to racist fear. Immigrants are welcome here,” and “No borders, no nations. No more deportation.”

In Monument Square, Peter Alexander of Bath played guitar and sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

Similar rallies were held Wednesday at 25 locations across the U.S., according to the Maine People’s Alliance, which organized the march and rally in Portland. People representing several groups that support reform legislation spoke at the rally, saying now is the time for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration law that makes it easier for undocumented immigrants who are already living and working in this country to become U.S. citizens.

One speaker was 23-year-old Isai Galves, who came to the United States 16 years ago. Galves lives in Portland and graduated from Deering High School. His father is pastor of the Iglesia Pentecostal El Sinai Church in Portland.

In an interview before the march, he said, “Immigration reform is something we have been praying about for a long time, to help 11 million people find a pathway to citizenship. These are Americans in waiting.”

Speakers said many immigrants who are productive members of our society live in constant fear of being deported. They said the nation’s immigration laws are broken and must be fixed.

“I’m here today because, like many of you, my family traveled a twisted road to arrive at this country,” said Ben Chin of Lewiston.

Chin, political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, said his grandfather came to the U.S. from China at the age of 9. He did not speak a word of English and had to bus tables to make a living. He eventually was accepted into Columbia University and served in World War II.

Chin said he has become dissatisfied with a system that has produced 11 million people who can “pick our blueberries and apples, die in our wars, care for our elderly but cannot vote, get a driver’s license and cannot sleep without fearing a knock on the door that might drag them away from a husband or wife or child.”

Speakers urged the crowd to call or write to members of Maine’s congressional delegation, asking them to support immigration reform legislation.

A few weeks ago, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators led by Florida Republican Marco Rubio introduced legislation that would contain a “road map” to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who are believed to be living and working in this country.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have gone on the record saying the country’s immigration system needs to be fixed.

Last month, Collins came out in support of a bill that would allow doctors to remain in the U.S. longer than their visas allow if they practice in underserved areas.

During the rally, Claudine Weatherford of Peaks Island said, “I believe in immigration reform,” and held a sign that read, “Strengthen the economy.”

“Unless they are a criminal,” she said, “give amnesty to all of them. If they are here and they have a job, then let them stay.”

“We need an easy path, not a hard path,” said Alexander, the musician and songwriter from Bath. “We have to stop being so paranoid about people coming here from other countries.”

 

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com