WASHINGTON — Taking up the legacy of the civil rights movement, prominent Latino organizations gathered Wednesday for a protest against an immigration law in Alabama that they say could restrict their political power.
Planning to emulate the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Ala., the protesters boarded a bus in Washington and headed south to join with civil rights leaders for a memorial event already under way. The group plans to march on Thursday and Friday.
In Alabama, they will ask for the repeal of a law that includes a provision that requires individuals to present proof of citizenship when registering to vote and another denying illegal immigrants access to state and local public services.
The march is meant in part as a commemoration of “Bloody Sunday” when 600 peaceful civil rights marchers were attacked by police as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7, 1965. More than 50 people were hospitalized.
Although this first group of protesters did not reach Montgomery because of the police blockade, leaders of the movement successfully led a march to the Alabama capital later that same month.
This year, a civil rights coalition is retracing the route of the historic march. The commemorative walk started Sunday in Selma and will culminate on Friday when the protesters expect to arrive in Montgomery, a 54-mile trek.
The Latino community should band together with other disadvantaged communities of color to protest unfair immigration legislation, said Janet Murguia, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. She was present at Sunday’s opening reenactment of the landmark civil rights event.
At the Sunday start-up, Murguia said it was important to see all different communities, including those of African-Americans, Latinos, and women, walking together.
“In that unity, we will find our strength,” Murguia said. “In that unity, we will find a path to moving our communities forward.”
Hector E. Sanchez, the executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said it is time to recognize “the root causes” of illegal immigration, which include the nation’s preference for cheap labor.
“Twelve million undocumented workers in the nation, in the most powerful nation of the world, is not a mistake,” Sanchez said. “Twelve million undocumented workers is public policy. And we need to ask the question, ‘Who’s benefitting from this public policy?’”
Murguia said it is vital for the Latino community to unite to its voice into the political process.
“It is more important now than ever, not only for people to see us standing in alignment with our African-American brothers and sisters but to see that we as a Latino community have emerged and understand the importance of standing up for ourselves,” Murguia said.