Oregon joins nationwide rallies to support immigrant struggle
Soren Urban, 13, of Salem, wraps himself in a mylar blanket to draw attention to the treatment of children in detention centers during a Families Belong Together Rally, part of a nationwide series of protests against the separation of parents and children at U.S. borders, at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore., June 30. | Anna Reed/Statesman-Journal via AP

SALEM, Ore.—About 700 people rallied here in the state capital Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s mistreatment of immigrants and asylum seekers and to call for humanitarian changes in federal immigration and asylum policies.

The rally came together at the last minute and featured youth from undocumented families as well as leading Democratic state representatives and candidates for public office. The crowd strongly supported calls to register and vote, support immigrants and immigrant families, elect legislators who understand the plight of workers and immigrants, and abolish ICE.

Shelaswau Crier, a lawyer and law professor—and candidate for Marion County Commissioner—reminded those present that her grandmother could not vote because of Jim Crow laws in Louisiana and said, “When we are not politically active, we are not remembering the legacy of racist oppression.” Crier linked the struggle for immigrant rights to the Black freedom struggle and to the fight against the Trump agenda.

Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, the first Latina immigrant to serve in Oregon’s state legislature, spoke movingly about her family crossing the border and her own struggle to achieve what she has on behalf of her Woodburn-Salem community. Deb Patterson, candidate for Oregon Senate District 10, spoke as a progressive faith leader and union member for immigrant rights and for a full social agenda which includes healthcare, environmental protections, and education for all. Danny Jaffer and Paul Evans, who might best be described as centrist Democrats with military service records, spoke about the contributions made by immigrant workers and youth and their own take on patriotism.

All of these political leaders are fighting far-right Republican forces who have deep pockets and are using racism and anti-immigrant messaging and so-called “Second Amendment rights” as their lead issues. But the Republican campaigns in the Salem area are not grassroots campaigns in any sense, while most of the Democratic campaigns are based in labor and in people of color communities and in progressive organizations.

The Republican Party meanwhile opened new offices, small and dismal, in Salem last week. A leading Republican politician who is spearheading the anti-immigrant effort in the state admitted to this writer that they cannot fill even a medium-sized meeting room with their supporters.

Crier and Patterson gave particularly moving speeches, connecting the civil rights and labor movements to the fight for immigrant rights with logic and emotion. But it was the youth who best expressed the urgency of the situation.

One young person described the stress of being in a family of six with undocumented parents and his father being unable to safely take the children out of the house. A young undocumented woman provided a strong anti-imperialist and anti-colonial analysis. The young people raised the point that they came into their teenage years unprepared for racism and said, “Why does my race matter to you if your race does not matter to me?”

A short march followed the rally. Members of Salem’s Racial Justice Organizing Committee (RJOC), Causa Oregon, the Communist Party, and Democratic Socialists of America provided needed information on what must be done to counteract anti-immigrant efforts and win in November. A community forum on how to beat back IP 22, an anti-immigrant measure which may qualify for the November ballot, will be held in Salem on July 25.

Several hundred people attend a Families Belong Together Rally, part of a nationwide series of protests against the separation of parents and children at U.S. borders, at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore., June 30. | Anna Reed / Statesman-Journal via AP

Saturday’s Salem rally was one of many organized across the country Saturday. Immigrant rights work in Oregon now takes place in a new context. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer and several ranking state Democrats have come out in favor of abolishing ICE, a blockade or occupation of a major ICE facility in Portland is being broken up by federal agents as this article is being written, and national attention has turned to the imprisonment of immigrants and asylum seekers in a federal facility in Sheridan, Oregon.

At a rally in Portland held on June 24 some local and state political leaders, including Portland Reps. Rob Nosse and Diego Hernandez, took strong positions in favor of immigrant rights. Nosse is a former student leader and union organizer and is now on staff with the Oregon Nurses Association. One of his goals is to pass a tax-the-corporations measure.

Hernandez comes out of the working class and is best known for breaking the color barrier on the Reynolds School Board, his work for education, and his leadership with Planned Parenthood. He has also called for the abolition of ICE.

Tom Andersen, a liberal Salem City Councilperson, will be moving a resolution to support immigrant right at City Council in coming days. Oregonians will know if the poisonous anti-immigrant IP 22 will appear on the November ballot or not on July 9. If it does it qualify, and passes, Oregon will no longer be a sanctuary state.

Causa and SEIU Local 503 are planning a press conference and rally on July 9 at 11:00 a.m. at the State Capitol to announce the status of IP 22.


Bob Rossi
Bob Rossi

Bob Rossi is a long-time activist writing from Oregon.