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12 miles for 12 million: Local immigrant advocacy groups march for path to citizenship

Joined by scores of others at Tom Schopflin Fields in Santa Rosa early Sunday, 16-year-old Javier Garcia seemed unfazed by the morning’s chilly temperatures as he prominently displayed the sign he held before him, which was emblazoned with three bright, red words:

“Legalize My Mom.”

It was a statement that echoed throughout the day as more than 150 people took part in a 12-mile march to advocate for immigration reform.

Led by colorful Aztec dancers, the group began its trek at 9 a.m. at Tom Schopflin Fields and ended it in the afternoon at the Healdsburg Plaza, where organizers held an outdoor community festival, complete with food and music.

Participants in the march, which was sponsored by a handful of organizations including Santa Rosa-based Comite VIDA and Centro Laboral de Graton’s ALMAS, also sought to urge local, state and federal lawmakers to support ongoing congressional efforts to help millions of immigrants remain legally in this country.

The Democrat-led plan, which is tied into a $3.5 trillion social and environmental bill, hit a serious snag last week.

The measure supports a change in U.S. immigration laws that would create what backers say is a path to citizenship for young immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children, along with immigrants who have temporary protected status, or those who are considered essential workers, such as farmworkers.

Differences within the party have slowed the measure’s progress, particularly in the wake of images of Haitian migrants being forcefully blocked entrance into the country at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition, there is also the consideration of an additional $1 trillion measure earmarked for infrastructural projects, such as highway and internet improvements.

Local immigration advocates at Sunday’s march hope to convince the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, in particular, to pass a resolution supporting the Democrats’ social and environmental bill.

Organizers said they chose to march 12 miles to represent the 12 million people who are undocumented in the United States.

“We need to continue putting pressure on our elected officials to do the right thing and to prioritize this,” said Renee Saucedo, program director of ALMAS. “We want Sonoma County to prioritize this.”

One undocumented Santa Rosa resident, who held a sign that read, “Migration is Beautiful,” said she moved from Oaxaca, Mexico to Sonoma County 20 years ago.

Since then, she said, it has been difficult living with the fear that arises when one is undocumented. Nevertheless, she is buoyed by efforts, such as Sunday’s march, to effect positive change.

“We’re here to fight because we don’t have any other options,” said Socorro Diaz, 41, of Santa Rosa. “It’s hard, but there’s a lot of hope. When I’m around my people, I feel the power.”

In addition, the march’s organizers want Sonoma County leaders to support health and safety initiatives that protect immigrant workers from COVID-19, along with the health, safety and employment hazards associated wildfires.

“We’re going to walk past vineyards that immigrant workers are caring for even during fires and smoke,” said Max Alper, executive director of North Bay Jobs for Justice. “We’re going to arrive in the Healdsburg Plaza, an epicenter of hotels and restaurants that depend on the work of immigrant workers. We want to recognize, respect and appreciate all immigrant workers — we’re here for change.”

Earlier this month, Saucedo presented a revised resolution to the Sonoma County supervisors seeking support for the passage of Assembly Bill 937, which would prohibit transfers from California jails and prisons to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It also asked supervisors to support Senate Bill 321, which would provide health and safety protections for domestic workers and day laborers.

Her proposed “Resolution on the Dignity, Health & Safety of Sonoma County” is currently being analyzed by the county, Saucedo said.

It’s unclear when the resolution will return to the board’s agenda for a vote.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at mya.constantino@pressdemocrat.com. @searchingformya on Twitter.

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