SELMA, ALABAMA — Among the tens of thousands of people who converged on Selma this week to honor the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday were hundreds of immigrants from across the country marching to advocate for their own civil rights.
Dolores Huerta, who organized farmworkers with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, told a crowd of activists Sunday morning that they must continue to fight.
“Organize, organize, organize,” she said. “We’ve got to be sure we get people elected who will get rid of some of these racist laws they’ve passed and pass laws that will actually support our community.”
In 2011, Alabama passed the one of the harshest immigration enforcement laws in the nation — making everything from seeking work to renting an apartment a crime for undocumented people. It also required the state to publish the names and private information of immigrants unable to prove their legal status. Most of these measures were found to encourage racial profiling and violate constitutional rights.
Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who helped lead the voting rights march 50 years ago and was beaten and tear gassed in Selma, also cited immigrants’ rights as an area that still needs serious work today.
“It is a major civil rights issue to have millions of people living in the shadows,” he told NBC this weekend. “They come here and are called illegal, but there is no such thing as an illegal human being.”
On Sunday, switching between English and Spanish, Huerta praised local activists for organizing against the law and defeating most of it in court, but told them to keep fighting against anti-immigrant proposals and for comprehensive reform.
“Many people may say, ‘I’m not a citizen so I can’t vote.’ But you don’t have to be a citizen to knock on doors, to pass up leaflets, to call people and remind them that not only do they have the right to vote, they have the responsibility to vote, because the people we elect will decide whether our tax dollars go to build more jails or more schools,” she said. “We’re here remembering that people died just because they were registering people to vote. They marched with everything against them and didn’t give up.”
Wearing a shirt showing the Selma march 50 years ago emblazoned with the words “Black and Brown Unity,” Alabama organizer Cornelio Reyes told the crowd that while the community is grateful for the President’s executive action to protect some parents from deportation, millions of people including himself do not qualify.
“It’s time to re-take the path our African American brothers and sisters have taken,” he said. “We know the path is not easy, but if all our communities organize, victory will be certain. As we commemorate 50 years since Bloody Sunday, we are going to cross that bridge too. “
Here are some scenes from the rally: