Santa Rosa immigration march to coincide with Cesar Chavez Day Sunday

  • Gael Climaco, 6, holds up an immigration reform sign during a march organized by the United Farm Workers to honor Cesar Chavez in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, April 1, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Farmworkers and their families and supporters will march through Santa Rosa on Sunday to express support for proposed changes to immigration law that would offer undocumented workers hope of legal status and eventually even full citizenship.

The march is an annual event to celebrate the birthday of the late labor organizer Cesar Chavez, but this year it has a special urgency since both national political parties seem ready to make some kind of deal on immigration for the first time in more than two decades.

"This is part of a series of marches this weekend timed toward the congressional calendar," said Irv Hershenbaum, first vice president of the United Farm Workers, which sponsors the march.

The surge of hope among immigrant advocates comes after Republicans lost the Latino vote by a substantial margin in November's election, a worrysome trend for the party in the face of swelling numbers of Latino voters. Party leaders and lawmakers have called for a more open stance on immigration in general and some have advocated a "path to citizenship" for undocumented workers, although the matter remains controversial within the party.

UFW Regional Director Juan Miguel Rubio said the marches here and elsewhere in California will focus on farmworkers, since a significant number of agricultural workers are undocumented.

"We are not supporting criminals; we're not supporting gangsters or drug dealers," he said. "We're supporting honest people who just want to go to work."

The annual march would usually be held on or near Chavez's birthday, March 31, but that falls on Easter this year. This weekend is Palm Sunday, which might depress turnout somewhat, organizers said, but it seemed like a better option than marching on Easter.

Rubio said he hopes several thousand people will turn out in Santa Rosa.

"We expect people to get out and march and fight for their rights," he said.

Early next month, the national UFW effort will begin, with thousands of members and supporters rallying in Washington, D.C., and meeting with members of Congress, Hershenbaum said. About 100 workers from vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties will join that effort from April 8-10.

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