As have thousands of immigrants and their supporters – from Atlanta to Los Angeles – members of the student-run Carolina Hispanic Association mirrored advocates across the nation on April 10 as they led students and community members in a rally for immigrant rights. They marched wearing white T-shirts and carrying American flags for the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice.
The association, known as CHispA, promotes multiculturalism on campus and celebrates Hispanic culture. It began rallying support days in advance of the march with e-mail messages sent to course listservs and announcements in classes. They urged students to take a stand against “unjust immigrant policies” under consideration in Congress.
Those policies include a bill already passed by the U.S. House that would make assisting undocumented immigrants a felony. Some members of Congress also have called for stiffer border controls – including the construction of a 700-mile wall between the United States and Mexico.
“It’s not just an issue of undocumented immigrants, it’s not about that – it’s about how our society is treating human beings that are here to work and be productive members of our society,” said CHispA President Elizabeth Linzan, a sophomore from Charlotte. “So many immigrants are working in our own dining room halls, Student Union, building the buildings we’re getting educated in.”
On April 7, about 20 students, faculty and University employees met in front of South Building. They marched through the building and across the Polk Place lawn chanting, “Immigration built this nation.” In two hours, they handed out 1,000 buttons reading I love immigrants and Yo amo inmigrantes to students in the Pit.
On April 10, as protesters gathered across the nation, CHispA led a larger group to the Pit, then to Franklin Street and back three times, drawing more than 75 supporters to the march, including students and community members. CHispA leaders made an impromptu decision to rent two vans to help transport marchers to a rally that evening in Siler City. About 3,000 people attended the Siler City rally, about 40 of whom traveled together in the vans or by car pool from the University, Linzan said.
Senior Katie Shields of Chapel Hill, who isn’t a member of CHispA, joined the group at the Siler City march, prompted by CHispA officers’ announcements in one of her classes.
There, Shields said she watched as undocumented immigrants, who usually try to “just blend in,” stood up and called for recognition. “It was a mood of like finally stepping out, taking their place in the world,” Shields said. “It was an empowering kind of feeling.”
“Did the rallies work?” Linzan asked. “I don’t know. At least people are talking about it – it’s on their radar. It makes me happy that we at the very least could bring awareness.”