Migrants and supporters march en masse



News staff writers

May 3, 2006

Nearly 1,300 people marched quietly through Hood River Monday in one of the largest demonstrations ever in Hood River County.

“We are here. There are many of us. Make legal the illegals,” said Rafael Vasquez, a Mexican national who is himself an “illegal.”

Taking on the very term “illegals” was one thrust of the May Day march to protest immigration law reform and to call for normalization of residency and work status rights for illegal residents around the country. Hood River’s march joined hundreds of other demonstrations of its kind around the country.

“No human being is illegal,” read Melissa Trejo’s T-shirt.

Marching with his wife and children, Mario Barragan of Hood River, said, “We are the manifestation of the problem that we have to be classified as illegals. Everyone has been an illegal one time or another.”

They were among the front portion of a nine-block throng of people — young and old, Hispanic and Anglo — who quietly filed from La Clinica on Pacific Street on the Heights downtown to Overlook Memorial Park.

The march caused no problems other than some traffic congestion at 12th and May streets, according to Capt. Kevin Lynch of Hood River Police Department.

“I have a lot of family that are illegals. I am here for them,” said Chris Ponce of Hood River, a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Asked what effect the march would have, Ponce said, “They’re hearing us. They’re seeing us. We are getting the attention we need at this time.”

Antonia Gonzalez, a Mt. Hood Community College student, said, “I’m here to fight against the injustice that people need to know is going on. We are here to work, not to take jobs away.”

Daniel Ward, director of La Clinica Del Cariño Family Health Care Center, said about half of the clinic’s 97 employees arranged in advance to participate in the parade.

“Because of our mission to serve the community, we stayed open and had staff here to take care of people,” Ward said.

Ward said he was moved by the parade, and having it at 4 p.m. was a good idea so no children had to miss school to participate.

“It was inspiring, peaceful, powerful and a wonderful opportunity for people to get to know each other, too,” he said.

About 20 members of the Columbia Gorge Fellowship For Peace helped to keep the parade peaceful and organized along its way. Fellowship member Mark England said other than some minor traffic backups, the parade went smoothly and people stayed in good humor.

“Our local migrant population is a pretty invisible group of people, and to see everyone out in public and not hiding was very powerful,” England said. “I enjoyed it and was inspired by it.”

There were no reports of large walkouts from workplaces, though the Hood River County School District reported that 1,139 students were absent Monday — about 29 percent of the total school population.

A typical daily absentee rate is six percent, according to superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady.

About one-third of Hood River Valley High School — 465 students — were absent Monday, and absentees totaling around 30 percent of enrollment were reported at Parkdale and Pine Grove schools, which have large concentrations of Hispanic families. The other elementary schools and the two middle schools had absentees totaling between 10 and 20 percent; in Cascade Locks it was less than 10 percent.

Some of the high school absences may fall into the “explained but unexcused” category used by the school.

“We know we have parents who were fearful of sending their students to school (Monday) out of fear they would be snatched up, or that they themselves would be snatched up and their children would have no one to come home to,” said Evenson-Brady, referring to reports that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers are in the area, taking away people classified as illegal residents. “We know they are fearful of this because they have told us,” Evenson-Brady said.

Students missing en masse complicates instruction, according to the superintendent.

“It makes it tough,” she said. “You know if anything is being taught in those schools the reality is you are going to have to re-teach it and the students who were there will already have heard it,” she said.

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