Mark Wilson Photo
Participants in an immigration rally in Roswell on Sunday greet the “On the Road to Citizenship” Caravan bus with picket signs and American flags.
Record Staff Writer
About 100 protesters gathered at Pioneer Park Sunday morning to rally for Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) to support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without requiring them to return to their countries of origin.
The rally was part of the “On the Road to Citizenship” Caravan organized by Santa Fe-based community organizing group Somos un Pueblo Unido. The caravan’s ultimate destination was the Lea County Republican Party headquarters in Hobbs, where Pearce resides.
The Roswell event was organized by Somos un Pueblo in cooperation with local human rights organization La Alianza de Paz y Justicia.
Participants held signs and chanted as they waited for the caravan bus to pull in from Farmington, the last place where the traveling rally had stopped.
“No somos uno, no somos cien, somos millones, cuentenos bien,” they said, meaning, “We are not one, we are not 100, we are millions, we are numerous.”
Some participants wore graduation caps and gowns to show their support for greater educational opportunities for foreign-born residents who have no access to federal financial aid.
A man who identified himself as undocumented said he attended the rally because of how his immigration status has prevented him and members of his family who are undocumented from gaining better employment, furthering their educations, or visiting their country of origin, Mexico.
“In all ways, it affects us,” he said. The man’s name is being withheld due to potential repercussions from admitting that he is in the country unlawfully.
The man said he has lived in the United States for 18 years and works for a dairy manufacturer. He said the economy of Chaves County, and especially the local dairy industry, greatly depend upon labor from undocumented immigrants.
Undocumented immigrants comprise 4.3 percent of New Mexico’s population, and comprise 5.6 percent of the state’s workforce, according to the Immigration Policy Center, a research and policy center based in Washington D.C.
The center states that undocumented immigrants paid more than $100 million in state and local taxes in New Mexico in 2010.
Somos un Pueblo Organizer Elsa Lopez referred to Chaves County as a “very symbolic” location for the caravan, referencing the controversial deportation in 2008 of an undocumented woman attending Roswell High School.
The 18-year-old student, who was pregnant, was stopped for driving without a license by a police officer assigned to the school. The officer asked her for proof of her citizenship during the traffic stop.
“That really prompted a lot of fear and discussion in the community,” Lopez said of the incident.
She said that Roswell activists had been instrumental in passing a 2009 New Mexico law that bans biased policing.
Eric Layer, communications director for Pearce in his Roswell office, said that Pearce strongly supports immigration reform.
Both Layer and Lopez said that the representative has met with Somos un Pueblo on numerous occasions to discuss immigration issues.
“He works on behalf of all of his constituents in New Mexico, and welcomes everyone when they wish to share ideas and concerns,” said Layer.
Pearce published an opinion editorial in the Albuquerque Journal Thursday outlining his views on immigration reform. His office said the editorial was not connected to Sunday’s protest.
In the editorial, Pearce stated that he supports a guest worker program that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay and work legally, but would not allow them to become citizens.
Undocumented immigrants who wish to become citizens would need to return to their countries of origin and apply for citizenship through currently established means, he wrote.
Lopez said Somos un Pueblo disagrees with this stance because of how difficult it is to apply for citizenship from outside the country. The purpose of the caravan was to urge Pearce to work to convince House Republicans to pass the immigration bill that passed the Senate in July, she said.
The bill would grant 10-year work permits to undocumented immigrants. If the immigrants followed the law, paid taxes, and met other requirements, they would be eligible for permanent residency status. They would have to spend three years as permanent residents before applying for citizenship from within U.S. borders.
The caravan did not encounter Pearce or any other Republican legislators in Hobbs on Sunday. The caravan took place over the weekend, as opposed to during weekdays, so as to coincide with the National Day of Action for Immigration Reform organized by labor union activist organization AFL-CIO, said Lopez.
She said that about 500 people either greeted or joined the caravan, and that about 300 were present at the rally in Hobbs.
The caravan stopped in Roswell for about an hour before leaving for its next stop, Tatum. Deacon Jesus Herrera, of the Immaculate Conception Church in Dexter, blessed the caravan and led participants in a prayer before it left.
Deacon Herrera said he came to support the caravan because he estimated that 90 percent of his parishioners were immigrants.
“It’s important for us to stand by our brothers and sisters,” he said.