PORTLAND, Maine — Five hundred people stopped traffic in a march Saturday in Maine’s largest city to advocate for national immigration reform and protest the recently passed Arizona law that makes it legal to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally.
The march, organized by Maine People’s Alliance, drew supporters from across the state. One group gathered at Union Station Plaza in Portland’s West End and another at Kennedy Park in the East End. They marched toward each other along Congress Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, and met in Congress Square, where speakers called upon Congress and the Obama administration to enact national immigration reform this year.
Speakers and marchers also decried SB1070, the law Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week. They said part of the purpose of the rally was to demonstrate against the passage of a similar law in Maine, though no such law is under consideration here.
“We’d like to show that Maine is not Arizona,” said Dennis Chinoy of Bangor, who participated in the demonstration.
“This is a law that will lead to racial profiling of an unprecedented amount in America,” organizer Ben Chin said before the crowd of supporters assembled in Congress Square.
The rally, one of dozens across the country on Saturday, came a day after Senate Democrats proposed an immigration reform bill that would tighten border enforcement and crack down on noncitizens taking jobs in the U.S.
“Yesterday they released a 30-page outline of the bill. But I’m here to say today that’s not enough. We don’t want a bill outline, we want a bill,” Chin said to the crowd.
Activists from People in Community Alliances — a Bangor organization that advocates for human and worker rights — attended the march and rally. They said effective immigration reform needs to begin with a reassessment of trade policies such as NAFTA.
“I think the perspective for many people is that this topic of immigration seems to begin at the border. It begins with a crime and the only alternatives we have are to give amnesty or punish the crime,” said Chinoy, who is also a PICA volunteer. “That’s obviously not where the story of immigration begins. The same forces that are displacing U.S. jobs south are displacing Latino people northward and there’s a lot of desperation involved. You can’t really reasonably think that simply beefing up security at the border is going to put a finger in the dike of that kind of desperation.”
“Those same free trade arrangements have wiped out the ability of many people to make a living south of the border,” said Jonathan Falk of Carmel, the director of PICA. “People need to make a living, so they go where they have to go to work.”
Organizers said federal immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for the undocumented, family reunification, worker protections and due process rights for new immigrants.
The marches began at 3 p.m. Saturday. Volunteers guided the marches, some standing at major intersections to help with traffic.
Musicians playing acoustic guitars and singing were among the crowd that marched from Union Station Plaza. Children marched with signs, and MPA volunteers with megaphones led the crowd with chants such as, “Immigration built this nation” and “Keep families together.”
Chris Rusnov of Winslow said she was at the march because her grandparents emigrated from Croatia and Hungary to escape war and poverty. She said her grandparents’ plight resembled that of immigrants who come from Latin America to seek jobs in the U.S.
“I know how tough it was for them,” she said. “We’re the richest nation in the world. We need to learn to share our wealth.”