Thousands of local residents marched through downtown Santa Barbara yesterday to support the rights of immigrant laborers as part of the National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights.
Protesters met at 3 p.m. in Ortega Park to kick off a two-hour march down State Street that ended with a rally in the Sunken Gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The demonstrators carried signs printed with slogans including “We Are Not Criminals” and “We Love America, We Want to Stay Here,” while chanting “Si se puede” – Spanish for “Yes we can.”
The March for Immigrant Rights was organized by the May 1 Coalition, a group of local organizations that advocate for the low-income residents of Santa Barbara County. PUEBLO Board Member Daraka Larimore-Hall said most of the protesters were immigrants, but a significant number of local citizens also attended the march to voice their concerns about proposed congressional legislation that could affect the rights of undocumented workers in America.
“There were lots of undocumented and documented workers and their families, and also their allies,” Larimore-Hall said.
Hundreds of UCSB students attended the march, and one even group walked from the UCSB campus to the opening rally downtown at Ortega Park, Larimore-Hall said.
A.S. External Vice President of Local Affairs Kelly Burns said she took part in the march because it gave her a chance to show her solidarity with the immigrants and all those fighting for immigrants’ rights.
“I didn’t go to class, and I didn’t buy anything,” Burns said. “We’re showing how important these people are to the economy.”
PUEBLO Intern Adam Poe said the afternoon march followed a 10 a.m. march through downtown Santa Barbara that was organized by Casa de la Raza, an organization focused on supplying local low-income residents with food and supplies.
Santa Barbara Police Dept. spokesman Lt. Paul McCaffrey said the crowds were peaceful at both marches and no demonstrators were arrested.
“The crowd was very well-behaved,” McCaffrey said. “Our goal was to accommodate the safety of the marchers and open streets up as fast as we could after the marchers vacated.”
The marches were designed to bring immigrants’ rights to the community’s attention, Larimore-Hall said, since many immigrants work and live in and around Santa Barbara.
“Santa Barbara’s economy is based around tourism and the service sector,” he said. “Those are industries that rely heavily on immigrant labor, and those laborers don’t necessarily have their own voice.”
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said there is a higher number of undocumented immigrants in Santa Barbara than in many other parts of the country because of the many service and agricultural jobs available in the area.
Maria Vega, an immigrant who participated in the 3 p.m. march with her family in support of Mexican immigrants, said she did not attend her job as a housekeeper yesterday. She said she felt that the march was worth skipping work for.
“This is important because many people come here just to work,” Vega said. “Everybody works and works and they get no rights. Hispanics do jobs that most Americans won’t do, and they still get no rights.”
Carbajal said the marches gave local residents and workers an opportunity to help put pressure on members of Congress, who are currently considering various pieces of legislation that would criminalize undocumented immigrants.
“We should not stand by idly,” Carbajal said. “Immigration is a complex issue facing our country. Until we start coming up with real solutions, all we get is a country divided.”
Sylvie Loebach, director of sales at the Harbor View Inn downtown, said the marches had a big impact on the hotel and other businesses in the area.
“A lot of people did not show up for work,” Loebach said. “It is affecting our business in a negative way.”
Isla Vista’s businesses were also affected by yesterday’s events, as Freebirds, Bagel Caf