Hispanics flood Capitol to protest immigration bill

By Carlos Campos, Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 8, 2006


Dozens of Hispanic immigrants flooded the halls of the state Capitol today to voice their concerns over a bill under debate in the Senate that seeks to crack down on undocumented workers in Georgia.

Organizers of a morning rally on the Capitol steps urged the crowd of about 100 – mostly Hispanic men – to go inside to urge legislators to vote against Senate Bill 529, known as the “Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act.”

About half of the crowd lingered outside, in part because a photo identification is required to enter the Capitol building.

Inside, many of the immigrants – some of them whom acknowledged they are undocumented – crowded hallways outside of the Senate chamber. Many of them wore blue jeans, t-shirts, stained painter’s pants, cowboy hats and ball caps, standing out from the suit-and-tie Capitol crowd that usually gathers in the halls.

Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials guided several men through a legislative phone-and-photo directory, helping them pick out certain legislators with whom to speak. Many busily filled out message forms for legislators in hopes of getting them to come out of the Senate to hear them out.

Gonzalez said some of the men in the crowd who speak English were helping the Spanish-speakers to communicate with legislators.

“We want to put a face with immigrants,” Gonzalez said. “Many of these immigrants live in their districts. Legislators should consider them their constituents.”

About 1 p.m., when debate over Sen. Chip Rogers’ (R-Woodstock) bill began, the majority of the immigrants moved up to the public gallery overlooking the floor of the Senate to watch the debate. Pablo Lopez, 28, of Gwinnett County, took a day off from his landscaping job to watch the debate in person.

Lopez, who acknowledged that he is an undocumented worker from Mexico, said he thought it was important to let legislators know immigrants are disturbed by the bill. Lopez noted that federal and state taxes are taken out of his paycheck every week. He wants to start his own landscaping business, but cannot do so because of his lack of legal status in the country.

“We work hard and I think it’s time they recognize the work we do,” Lopez said.

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