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SAN JUAN, RGV – This year’s César Chávez march and rally, which was hosted by La Unión del Pueblo Entero, celebrated the legacy of the farmworker leader and focused on the need for family unity. Its theme was “Unidos Venceremos” (United We Will Overcome).

LUPE enthusiastically supports President Obama’s deferred action programs and strongly opposes efforts by some Republican-led states to strike the programs down.

More than 900 Rio Grande Valley residents participated in the event, up slightly from 2014. Sponsorship was up also, allowing LUPE to put on more family entertainment.

LUPE, a community group that helps colonia and immigrant families, sprung out of the United Farmworkers union co-founded by Chávez.

Martha Sánchez is organizing coordinator with La Unión del Pueblo Entero.
Martha Sánchez is organizing coordinator with La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

Martha Sánchez is organizing coordinator with LUPE. Sánchez said the rally came at a moment when new immigration programs from the Obama administration are under attack. “Our members are stepping up and speaking out against these attacks and in support of immigrant family unity. This march and rally marks the 40th day of our fast chain to change the hearts of politicians standing in the way of the immigration programs.” Fast participants and potential beneficiaries of Deferred Action shared their stories with those on the march and with the media.

“We know from experience that with dedication and unity, justice will eventually prevail. The César Chávez March is our biggest opportunity to show that unity and dedication to the cause,” Sánchez said.

Locally, Sánchez said LUPE is “closer than ever” to winning a program to finally implement streetlights in Hidalgo County colonias. Members of LUPE and ARISE and other Equal Voice Network partners have worked for years on this issue, she added.

With LUPE Director Juanita Valdez-Cox and Sanchez busy with rally activities, group spokesman John-Michael Torres was available for in-depth interviews with the media.

“The states that brought the lawsuit to block President’s Obama’s deferred action programs present it  as though immigrants are going to damage their states but in reality we know that immigrants are net contributor to the nation, the states they live in, and to the economy,” Torres told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Every worker is a consumer and helps contribute to the economy. We want immigrants to have the opportunity to work, to stay with their family, to not fear leaving their houses to go to the store, to go to school, to go to their work. The fear being that they will be stopped and deported.”

The deferred action programs allow undocumented residents that meet certain requirements to stay in the United States to work. The programs do not grant citizenship or put immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. It does take away the fear of being separated from their families and being deported for four or five million immigrants.

Torres said it was clear from the number of people who participated in the rally and the noise they generated during the march that Judge Andrew Hanen does not reflect the views of the Rio Grande Valley when he struck down the deferred action programs. Hanen has been critical of the Obama administration’s stance on immigration and said states opposing the deferred action programs have standing to make their case.

“The Rio Grande Valley is a community of immigrants, of mixed status families, we are a community that supports immigration reform, supports immigrants. We want to show that in our numbers and in our message today,” Torres said.

“It is clear Judge Hanen does not represent the Rio Grande Valley. He was appointed during the Bush administration. He was chosen by the 25 states that brought the lawsuit against deferred action because of his stance against immigrants. It is very sad that the lawsuit has to go through him, before it goes to a higher court where it is likely to be reversed.”

Asked to give his opinion on what most Valley residents think of Judge Hanen’s comments on immigration, Torres said: “The majority in the Valley are either immigrants, supporters of immigrants or who have immigrants in their family, that have members in their family that were, in the past, undocumented but were able to get their papers because of amnesty and different things like that. This idea that immigrants are coming to invade the country or to harm the country, to do that, we do not see that. Immigrants are family members, community members. They are the backbone of our Valley economy.”

Torres said it is also “very sad” that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is at the forefront of the lawsuit against deferred action. Torres said he wished Abbott was more reflective of public opinion in the Lone Star State about the need for immigration reform.

“That Governor Abbott is at the head of this lawsuit is very sad. He is trying to portray this lawsuit as lawlessness on the part of the federal government but in reality the problem is our broken immigration system and the Republican leadership in Washington that will not address this issue. It seems like they to want to keep the status quo, so they can attack immigrants and keep getting elected and re-elected and getting votes from the extreme, anti-immigrant element in their party. They create a culture of fear in the immigrant community,” Torres said.

Torres pointed to numerous opinion polls that show that a majority of the population, both in the nation and in Texas, support immigration reform that gives legalization to undocumented immigrants or a pathway to citizenship.

One of the arguments put forward by the states that brought the lawsuit against deferred action is that the programs will allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, which adds to the processing costs for the states. Judge Hanen has cited this claim. Torres, however, pointed to a study by the Center for American Progress which shows that for every dollar it costs to process driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, the state would pull in three dollars through increased taxation and productivity.

La Unión del Pueblo Entero spokesman John-Michael Torres is pictured in this file photo.
La Unión del Pueblo Entero spokesman John-Michael Torres is pictured in this file photo.

With the 84th Legislature now in top gear in Austin, Torres was asked to give LUPE’s top legislative issues. He said one is support for legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license or a driver’s permit. The other, Torres said, is support for legislation that increases accountability of the Department of Public Safety when it carries out its border surge operations.

On the latter, Torres said: “We want DPS to forge much better working relationships with local law enforcement, to respect the rights of the community, to respecting the culture of border communities, to understand that just because you have a car full of people does not mean you are a human trafficker but rather that it is you have a large family. We need DPS to understand that just because they pull over a person who does not speak English that does not mean they are undocumented. We need that kind of oversight. We need increased transparency and accountability.”

Torres added that even though LUPE and other organizations that help the immigrant community have lots of serious issues, it does not mean they and their members cannot have fun. “Today we can have together as a community, as families, to enjoy this beautiful day. It has been a great march and rally with lots of family activities.”

Activities included theatre performances, music, children’s games, a health fair, food at affordable prices, folklorico, and more. The event was free.

Footnote: Most of the participants at the rally and march wore red t-shirts in honor of farmworker’s leader Chávez. However, about 150 stood out because they were wearing white t-shirts. They were supporters of the Pharr Forward slate of candidates contesting the Pharr city commission races. Two of the slate’s candidates, physicians Ambrosio ‘Amos’ Hernandez and Ramiro Caballero, participated in the event. Pharr Forward was mentioned by organizers as a co-sponsor of the event. As a non-profit group, La Unión del Pueblo Entero does not endorse candidates or political parties.