(APN) ATLANTA "!Si se puede!" April 10, 2006, will go down as a turning point in our state, where 60,000 immigrants, many of Hispanic origin, and their supporters, joined to show their numbers and to change the hearts and minds of the American people.
"We want to stop being invisible," Adelina Nicholls, President of the Coordinating Council of Latino Community Leaders, said.
"No more! We are human beings, not machines!" Carlos Valerio, a construction worker from Mexico who now lives in Canton, said. Latinos, especially the undocumented, "have long been accustomed to keeping our heads down and our backs bent in labor," he said.
The Atlanta rally was held at Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway. Millions of immigrants are estimated to exist in the United States. If they were granted citizenship at once, the US population would jump by about 3%.
"Now is the time for Congress to enact comprehensive legislation that rewards work, reunites families, restores the rule of law, reinforces our nation's security, respects the rights of US-born and immigrant workers, and redeems the American Dream," State Rep. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) said.
The turnout in Atlanta far exceeded expectations. Alianza de 17 de Marzo, an ad hoc group of Latino community leaders and organizers of the event, had said they would be pleased if 20,000 showed up.
At noon, Roddy Padilla, a member of the Planning Committee, incredulously announced police were estimating the crowd at 50,000.
Within a half hour, Padilla was back at the microphone telling his jubilant audience the newest estimate was 60,000. This is huge for Atlanta, both in turnout and in the impressive organizing capacity of the Latino community.
Seasoned veterans of past civil and human rights campaigns said they could not remember a larger turnout in Georgia.
The march was part of a nationwide outpouring of demonstrations for dignity and respect for immigrants.
The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives passed a Republican bill in December 2005 that would change illegal immigration from a civil offense to a criminal felony and jail anyone who attempts to aid an undocumented immigrant.
Gladys Rosales, marching down Dresden Drive with her son, Jack, said she has been in the country since 1990.
"I pay my taxes and I've never collected a penny from the government. I'm as good as anyone else in this country and I'm tired of being treated badly," Rosales said.
Georgia legislators who voted against Senate Bill 529 were invited as special guests. SB 529, recently passed by the Georgia Assembly, requires employers to check the legal status of new employees and requires local law enforcement agencies to report illegal immigrants arrested for felonies or DUI to federal immigration officials.
The initial intent, and still part of the bill sponsored by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), was to deny state-funded benefits such as medical assistance to illegal immigrants.