Students, staff march through campus as part of national immigrant rights day

L.A. Cicero Rally

More than 200 students and others in the campus community joined a rally on White Plaza Monday, May 1, in solidarity with “A Day Without Immigrants,” a national effort focused on immigrants’ rights.

L.A. Cicero Protest poem

Gabriel Bombara, of Stanford’s Spoken Word Collective, offered a poem before protesters marched to Hoover Tower.

More than 200 people participated Monday in a campus rally for immigrant rights.

Held in conjunction with a national work and shopping boycott that was billed a "Day Without Immigrants," the rally began at noon in White Plaza. Mariachi Cardenal de Stanford performed, several members of the Student Coalition for Immigrant Rights recited poetry and two janitors addressed the crowd in Spanish, repeatedly thanking the students for their support.

"We're protecting what we know and the people we know," said student organizer Agustin Cervantes, 21, of East Los Angeles. "We feel targeted by the new immigration legislation, so we came together to express our support for immigrant rights."

The demonstrators, many of them dressed in white with orange armbands, then marched up Lasuen Mall to Hoover Tower chanting, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

"I believe that all people deserve rights as immigrants and as people who want to help others," said student organizer Mark Liu, 23, of Brookline, Mass. Liu said he opposes provisions in House Resolution 4437 that penalize illegal immigrants and those who help them. "We shouldn't criminalize people for wanting a better life for their families," he said. "We have to look at the root cause of the illegal immigration problem."

Many demonstrators identified themselves as the children or grandchildren of immigrants, but most said that support for immigrant rights should be at the heart of all Americans.

"Our liberties are only as safe as the most vulnerable members of society," said law student Juliana Chereji, 23, of Hayward. "I believe that by protecting the rights of immigrants, we ensure the freedom of our society." Chereji, the daughter of immigrants, marched in the rally holding a cardboard sign with the words "No human is illegal."

Student Tyler Hester, 22, of San Anselmo, said he was happy to support immigrant rights but thought a more in-depth discussion of the issues would be helpful. "I think someday we should have a long session where we actually discuss the nitty-gritty of the new legislation," he said.

Hester organizes a group on campus called Habla el Dia, which brings Stanford students together with janitors for English-language tutoring. He said he spotted more than 25 janitors in the crowd at White Plaza and was happy to see students connecting with immigrant workers in a social situation.

Others reflected on the sense of unity evoked by the demonstration. "I'm here to support a united vision of the United States," said business student Steve Gomez, 27, of Los Angeles. "This is not immigrants versus Americans, this is Americans for America."

Many of the participants said they were skipping class for the day to show their support for the nationwide immigrant walkout. With more than 8,000 undergraduate students on campus, however, their walkout likely did little to shrink class attendance.

An e-mail from contracted-services manager Chonna Delaney estimated that 30 percent of daytime and 50 percent of nighttime janitorial staff would participate in the boycott and not show up for their May 1 shifts. Kent Edwards, a spokesman for the janitorial-service contractor American Building Management Industries, declined to comment on worker participation in the boycott.

After the protest, rally organizers relaxed by the fountain in White Plaza and dangled their feet in the water. Many said they were headed to San Jose to participate in another immigrant rights rally later in the afternoon.

Emily Saarman is a science-writing intern at Stanford News Service.