Wednesday marked the beginning of the Chinese new year, but members of the local Chinese community who congregated downtown didn’t spend their afternoon celebrating.

Approximately 80 people gathered under the American flag in front of the main post office downtown to protest the imprisonment of the China Castle restaurant’s former owner Sui-Yi Paul Chang. Chang is serving a 366-day sentence in the Lompoc Federal Prison after he and his wife Chin-Chin Chang pleaded guilty to employing illegal immigrants at their downtown restaurant.

Two of the seven illegal immigrants employed at the restaurant were also living in the Chang’s home. Chin-Chin Chang is serving a four-month sentence under house detention so she can continue to care for the couple’s children.

The protest was held to raise community awareness of Chang’s case and collect signatures for a petition requesting that he be allowed to serve his sentence at home. James Sturgeon, president of the Santa Barbara Chinese Organization and friend of the Changs, spoke at the rally against Chang’s sentence.

“I feel like something dreadfully wrong has happened to the Changs. We know hiring people undocumented in the country isn’t right,” he said. “But if someone is singled out and shuffled through our judicial system, I think we need to speak out against it. I urge you to please sign the petitions and bring Paul Chang home.”

Protesters held signs written in Chinese, Spanish and English entreating the courts to allow Chang to complete his prison sentence at home with his family. The Chang case has received an overwhelming amount of support from the Chinese community as well as the non-Chinese community, according to Phillip Ho, a local dentist and a protest organizer.

“I wanted to quote the chief U.S. judge of the central federal court, Harry Hatter Jr.: ‘If there is a perception in the community that defendants are not treated fairly, then the whole community suffers,’ ” he said. “Equal justice is something that affects every American.”

The Changs have done a considerable amount of philanthropy within the community, Ho said.

“They have always donated food to various homeless shelters and other organizations,” he said. “Basically anyone who asked them for help, they gave a donation to, always a minimum of $30 to $50, which adds up to hundreds of dollars over a short period of time.”

Sophomore political science major Thomas Weng said the Changs were singled out specifically because of their race.

“Personally, I’m here to bring attention to the fact that it’s a very harsh sentence against Paul Chang,” he said. “It is an example of unfair, racial sentencing, which is a sentence biased against people who don’t have the political or economical resources to defend themselves.”

Chin-Chin Chang said she felt fortunate to be able to stay home with her children and was grateful for the large amount of support they have received from the community.

“We have been treated very poorly. It’s very hard not having [Paul Chang] home with the kids; everything is in disorder, and I’m trying to get my life back in place,” she said. “I’m going to tell Paul when he gets back that this is his hometown and everyone came out here to support him.”