Immigrants Protest at Capitol

By: Wendy Suares
By: Wendy Suares

A crowd of close to 1,000 people sang along in Spanish to "We Shall Overcome," a song symbolic of the civil rights movement that now has new meaning for immigration reform advocates.

"We can do it, we can make it work. We didn't come here to do nothing bad, just work," said Victor Melendez.

There are an estimated 100,000 illegal immigrants in Mississippi.

This rally, like those across the country, is in support of federal legislation that would allow the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants the chance to become U.S. citizens.

"Immigrants care about what happens to them in the United States," said Bill Chandler. "They want to be our neighbors and co-workers. They want a better life for their family."

Tens of thousands of undocumented workers came to work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, though many at Monday's rally work in poultry farms. Two dozen organizations that work with Mississippi's immigrants speak out for their cause.

"I want to see justice for them, comprehensive justice, because our immigration laws need to come up to date," said sister Sherry Barrett.

"We're here. We're not leaving. If they take us out of this country, we'll come right back," chanted the group in Spanish, as translated by Jerrica Romero.

State auditor Phil Bryant recently released figures on Mississippi's illegal aliens. He estimates they cost taxpayers $25 million a year for education and health care.

Mississippi Cong. Chip Pickering released a statement late Monday afternoon:

"The topic of border security and illegal immigration is being hotly debated in Mississippi and across our country. This is an issue of national security and economic forces. But we must remember that all human beings have inherent worth and deserve dignity and respect, and we should not allow this dialogue to degenerate into the demagoguery of xenophobia or racial prejudice. We must secure our borders to guard against drug smuggling, people smuggling, and terrorist infiltration; we must secure our borders to prevent those with criminal intent from harming America. We must enforce our laws in regards to those who have illegally entered our country. We must reform our immigration laws to allow people from around the world to seek the freedoms and prosperity of America, for the shared values and spirit of enterprise and ethic of hard work has made this nation of immigrants strong. We must not reward lawbreakers with amnesty. But these are issues of security and economy, not an issue of ethnicity. Either side of the debate does a disservice to this public discussion if it engages in race baiting."

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