‘We are the backbone’ " thousands march in Colorado | SummitDaily.com
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‘We are the backbone’ " thousands march in Colorado

JON SARCHE
the associated press

DENVER ” Wearing symbolic white and waving both American and Mexican flags, thousands of people marched through Denver on Monday, hoping to demonstrate the economic power of immigrants ” illegal and legal ” across the country.

Merlin Madrid, a photo instructor at Metropolitan State College, said she was offended by a U.S. House bill that would make millions of illegal immigrants felons.

“They do jobs that most Americans don’t want to do. I did those sort of jobs as a teenager and it helped me get to college,” said Madrid, whose family roots in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley stretch back generations.

From Alamosa to Greeley, from Grand Junction to Fort Morgan, schools, restaurants and other businesses planned to run with skeleton crews or to shut down for at least part of the day. Some of the nation’s largest meatpacking companies are planning to pare production or shut down entire plants, including facilities in Fort Morgan and Greeley.

Events were planned across the country, with big turnouts expected in Los Angeles and other large cities. Organizers expected the Denver rally to be at least as large as one downtown on March 25 that drew 50,000 people, including many legal residents and citizens.

Melanie Lugo showed up with her husband, Manuel Quesada, and their daughter, third-grader Nadine Lugo. They said the girl’s school encouraged students to stay in class, but they believed it was more important to march to the state Capitol.

“Because these are her people,” Melanie Lugo said as the crowd grew to a reporter-estimated 3,000 to 4,000. A business manager for a general contractor, Melanie Lugo said she believed the national show of unity would effect the legislation in Congress.

“We are the backbone of what America is, legal or illegal it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We butter each other’s bread. They need us as much as we need them.”

Term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Owens won’t attend any immigration events Monday, spokesman Dan Hopkins said, and he had no comment on the fact that some people were staying out of work to protest. He said Owens believes people have a right to voice their opinion.

The doors of Hector Castillo’s bakery are usually open 360 days a year, but anybody looking for his Mexican pastries or cookies was out of luck Monday. For Castillo, 45, it’s a protest against the House legislation.

“About 80 percent of our customers are Latin people, most of them Mexican, and the proposed law will affect all of us,” he said.

El Centro Humanitario, a nonprofit agency in Denver that helps day laborers, was closed because its managers were organizing the rally. Program development director Harold Lasso said about 60 people showed up looking for work and they were sent to help with rally preparations.

There was little change at Labor Finders, a temporary labor office with several branches in the Denver area, spokesman Tim Kaffer said.

“The people who come in here really can’t afford to take a day off,” he said. “Their daily pay just takes care of their hotel and food.”

Denver-area contractor Chuck Saxton, who hires temporary workers through El Centro Humanitario, said he suspected some of his crews have been illegal immigrants.

“I’m going to go to support them. These guys come here, they work hard and they’re honest. They’re salt of the earth,” Saxton said. “They provide a vibrancy to our economy and our country that is fading.”

Colorado’s three Roman Catholic bishops came out against the “Day Without Immigrants,” saying walkouts can “hurt many business owners and employers who already support fair immigration reform.” They urged students to stay in school.

Former legislator Polly Baca, executive director of the Latin American Research and Service Agency, said her group and others were not recommending that people leave their jobs without their employers’ permission.

The state Labor Department does not track the numbers of immigrants working in Colorado. According to 2002 figures, the latest available, there were about 390,000 Hispanic workers around the state, about 17 percent of the work force, agency spokesman Bill Thoennes said.

“With a work force that size, if half of the work force was gone, it would have to be a sizable impact,” he said.


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