Rally condemns Johnson

David Orta, sophomore in LAS, and Horacio Avelar, senior in LAS, hold up a large sign listing all the wrongs they feel Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) has done to U.S. immigrants at a large immigration reform rally Monday afternoon. Austin Happel

By Sam Cowin

University students and members of the community gathered outside Rep. Tim Johnson’s (R-Ill.) office on Monday to protest his support for the Border Security Act, HR Bill 4437.

Similar rallies occurred in cities throughout the nation, including Chicago.

Carrying flags from a variety of nations and signs with messages such as “We work hard for this country,” thousands of immigrants and their supporters gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park Monday before a planned march through the city’s Loop business district.

The demonstration is part of a nationwide action that is meant to show support for immigration reform and opposition to legislation that would criminalize the actions of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

The seeds for Monday’s rally were planted after a demonstration at Chicago’s federal plaza on March 10 drew more than 100,000 people, catching many by surprise. Similar rallies have been held in cities across the country since then, casting a national spotlight on the debate over immigration reform.

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Participants at the rally in front of Johnson’s Champaign office held signs, waved American and Mexican flags and presented a report card to a member of Johnson’s staff. The report card gave Johnson failing grades for his stance on immigration reform and said, “Johnson, we expect better from you.”

Speakers at the press conference included members of La Colectiva, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Service Employees International Union. They made their statements in both Spanish and English.

Voter registration forms were also dispersed throughout the crowd as speakers encouraged citizens to register.

Yesenia Sanchez, senior in LAS, said Johnson’s lack of leadership and poor representation of immigrants in the community made the press conference necessary.

“For him to say undocumented immigrants are not contributing to the community and are draining services is shameful,” Sanchez said. “We will not tolerate the criminalization of the undocumented community and we expect leadership from him. His stance [on immigration] is anti-immigrant, anti-human and anti-American.”

Diana Mora, junior in LAS and president of La Colectiva, said Johnson must accept that the community cares about the way he voted on HR-4437 and they will not be insulted.

“We have tried to educate him but he’s not learning,” Mora said. “The report card is a way to show him he’s not learning and everyone deserves rights. We’re all human and we all come here with a desire to succeed. All we ask for is a chance.”

Phil Bloomer, press secretary for Johnson, said protests would have been more appropriate when HR-4437 was being voted on in the House of Representatives last year.

Bloomer also said that Johnson has received letters from community members thanking him for his vote on the bill.

“The majority of the people in the district want tighter borders,” said Bloomer. “The Congressman has no apologies for his vote. It was the right thing to do.”

Johnson echoed that statement in a press release issued Monday.

“People across the district are greatly disturbed about this,” Johnson said in the release. “I encounter the issue at every stop, every meeting, every day, it seems. Citizens are losing their jobs, our social service systems are overburdened, people attempting citizenship through legal channels are especially infuriated. Above all, citizens are angry that people from another country presume a right to this privilege of American citizenship.”

Aide Acosta, graduate student, said she is appalled by Johnson’s comments.

“It is important that Johnson recognizes and appreciates immigrant workers in Champaign,” Acosta said. “All must be respected.”

Sonia Rodriguez, freshman in LAS, said she was happy with the turnout at the rally.

“The mix of students and community members shows the strength of the movement,” Rodriguez said.

Mora said Johnson has accepted some of the concerns of immigrants in the community including their desire for a guest worker program.

“He has accepted some things, but he’s basically saying he won’t take leadership on other immigrant bills,” Mora said.

AP Wire Reports contributed to this report