Northwestern rally for immigrant rights

May 14, 2009

EVANSTON, Ill.--Roughly 70 students and community members rallied to demonstrate their solidarity with immigrants and workers at Northwestern University May 7.

The rally, organized by a coalition of immigrants rights activists, progressive Democrats and socialists, was sparked by the Northwestern police department reporting a young undocumented worker to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during a traffic stop in April.

Preparations for the rally began the week prior with an open meeting on May 3, where 30 students and community members met to discuss how to respond and what demands the movement should make of the police and university.

Student organizers met with the chief of Northwestern's police department a few days later, where they found out that the young man in question, who police initially claimed to have stopped for "erratic driving," had actually been asleep in his car when police demanded to see his identification. The students also learned that this was the second instance in April alone where Northwestern police had voluntarily reported someone to ICE after a routine traffic stop.

During the meeting, Northwestern police agreed to establish a new policy on immigration enforcement to mirror that of the Evanston police department, which stipulates that police will not voluntarily request any information on immigration status unless a federal warrant already exists on a suspect's record. The police chief also offered an apology for the previous incident.

Despite the police's surprisingly conciliatory attitude, students agreed to go ahead with Thursday's rally as an act of solidarity with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. still facing daily stigmatization, harassment and threat of deportation. Under the slogans "Immigrant rights are human rights" and "No human being is illegal," students assembled at the entrance of campus for a spirited, enthusiastic demonstration of the power of activism.

Arianna Hermosillo, a Northwestern student and president of the university's Latino Student Organization, echoed the sentiments of many participants:

[T]his rally is a demonstration of student power. We are not apathetic. We care about these issues and will do what it takes to face them and effect change. We will not conform to the status quo. We will challenge it.

We will show the world that we go to a school where our school newspaper does not call people illegal, where students aren’t questioned by their very own police and where all human rights, those of immigrants, students and everyone, are important.

After the rally, students gathered on campus to discuss the perilous state of immigrant and workers' rights in their own community, where Northwestern University's administration sub-contracts out most service jobs to notorious union-busting corporations like Sodexho.

Encouraged by their initial success, participants agreed to move forward with a campaign for worker and immigrant rights, and to begin to lay the foundations of a strong, vibrant movement at Northwestern.

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