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Dallas participates in "Day Without An Immigrant"

By Catherine Cuellar with Marla Crockett and Sujata Dand, KERA

Dallas, TX –

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 Reporter: Chains like Jerry's Supermercado, La Michoacana Meat Market, and Mi Cocina restaurants were closed in observation of what organizers called "A Day Without an Immigrant." Although the economic impact of the boycott wasn't really measured, last year, Latinos contributed an estimated 19 billion dollars to the local economy. Jefferson Boulevard, the main drag in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Oak Cliff, was unusually quiet. But the law office of Domingo Garcia had a full parking lot.

[office music]

Cuellar: Garcia, the national civil rights chair for the League of United Latin American Citizens, supervised a dozen volunteers around his conference table. As they made signs for rallies later in the day, he offered free legal counsel to immigrants who feared losing their jobs if they participated in the civil action, but he had no takers.

Domingo Garcia, LULAC: That's great news. Employers are working with the movement, and employees have been responsible, asking for the day off, taking a vacation day, sick day, personal day, and it appears to be working.

[outside Cornyn's office: "we want justice"]

Cuellar: At noon, around two hundred of protestors gathered outside the office of U.S. Senator John Cornyn, urging support for the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. A woman from Plano, Renee Walker, charged into the crowd.

Renee Walker: My grandparents had to come through Ellis Island and register. They paid taxes and learned the language.

Voice in crowd: So would it be OK if they registered and paid the back taxes?

Walker: No, they have to come through legally. They have broken the law by crossing the border illegally. They have no respect for our laws.

Cuellar: Using a bullhorn, Garcia urged demonstrators to ignore her.

Garcia: There's a lot of mean people in the world. Don't worry about it. Let's go.

Cuellar: A few hours later, Senator Cornyn released a statement in Washington. He didn't acknowledge the protest but restated his position.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn: The hope is with all the attention and focus that we can move forward on this and I hope to get a bill on the President's desk for comprehensive immigration reform.

Cuellar: Late afternoon brought a few thousand Latinos wearing white and waving American flags to Dallas City Hall, where about a dozen speakers addressed the crowd in Spanish and English. Students organized a simultaneous rally at Kiest Park in Oak Cliff, where one DISD elementary school teacher, Jose Calderon, carried a Mexican flag and defiantly refused to talk about immigrants.

Jose Calderon: I will not use the "I" word because they are native Americans, native Salvadorans, native Mexicans. We didn't come from another continent. This is our continent and they should call us as native Americans that we are.

Cuellar: Students registered voters, trying to fulfill their rallying cry - today we work, tomorrow we vote.

[voter registration in Spanish]

Cuellar: At city hall, Griselda de la Vega registered to vote for the first time, then described from the stage what citizenship and participation in democracy meant to her.

Griselda de la Vega: "I am Mexican. It was not my choice, but I choose to become an American, and I'm very proud of that, and I'm very proud of you, and I'm going to be voting for each of you"

Cuellar: A group of counter-protestors called Americans for Immigration Reform will demonstrate Saturday in Fort Worth's Sundance Square.
For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.

More on the web:

Americans for Immigration Reform protest Saturday, May 6 in Fort Worth's Sundance Square