Marcha Migrante kicks off in S.D.

Rick Greenblatt reports from the start of a Mexico-to-Canada caravan for immigrant rights.

SAN DIEGO--Beneath the towering double row of border fences dividing San Diego from Tijuana, immigrant rights activists held a February 2 kickoff for the third Marcha Migrante, a car caravan from the Mexican to the Canadian border.

The march will visit "forgotten migrants" along the way "to get people to go to the streets and protest, to get people to go Washington and ask for immigration reform," and to organize to get the "community to vote," according to Enrique Morones, march organizer and leading member of San Diego's Border Angels and Gente Unida.

The march will stop in Sacramento, California's state capitol, to support the call for "drivers' licenses for undocumented people [and] legalization for our people," explained Micaela Saucedo, director of the Casa Refugio Elvira in Tijuana.

Casa Refugio Elvira is a shelter for women and families who have been deported from the U.S. The shelter is named in honor of Elvira Arellano, who was deported recently after seeking sanctuary with her young son in a Chicago church. One objective of the march is to let people who face deportation know about the refuge.

Mauricio Farah Gebara of Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights emphasized the importance of Mexico's immigrants to the U.S. labor force. "In spite of this, they are not recognized as people," Farah said, adding that immigrants are living "in the shadows [and] in fear," separated from their families, excluded from the political process, and "without the right to education, work and health care."

"Ever since Operation Gatekeeper under President Clinton, the more you militarize the border, the more innocent human beings you kill," said David Schmidt of the Sí Se Puede Coalition.

Pointing to the border wall, as Border Patrol agents in their green-and-white SUVs cruised the no man's land between the fences, Schmidt said "for business, for the rich and for money, this wall does not exist...Thanks to NAFTA and thanks to U.S. economic and foreign policy, humans beings have no choice but to immigrate."

The upcoming presidential elections were another theme of the protest. Morones emphasized his view of the central importance of getting people to vote--in his words, "su voto es su voz" (your vote is your voice).

During the rally, a group of six Minutemen, an anti-immigrant group, attempted to disrupt the rally by using an amplified siren, but they were unable to prevent the speakers from continuing.

After a performance by dancers in colorful Aztec costumes, the initial caravan of about one dozen cars drove east toward its next stop in Holtville, Calif., an agricultural town in California's Imperial Valley. Many of the estimated 4,500 migrants who have died crossing the border since 1994 are buried in a Holtville cemetery.