Immigrant rights activists expect as many as 5,000 people to march on City Hall on Saturday to protest proposals that would curb the rights of illegal immigrants and what they say is an increasingly hostile climate.
The march, which will begin at 10 a.m. at Brooklyn Avenue and Indiana Street, will culminate in a mock ballot initiative, Proposition One, calling for an extension of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and a streamlining of the naturalization process.
Organizers hope to distribute 26,000 ballots and are urging residents, legal or not, to cast their votes.
"The way we see it, it's time to stop being the (whipping boys) of Southern California," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, director of One Stop Immigration and Education Center. One Stop is a private, nonprofit organization that offers English and naturalization classes.
"This is a population that is supposedly monolingual, we're not supposed to be doing anything for the economy and we're breaking the treasury of the state by using the social services," Gutierrez said. "This is America. We're talking about not only people who don't have the legal papers, but the people that have been disenfranchised . . . who have no voice, no vote, no nothing."
A Tuesday night meeting at a One Stop office attracted about 50 organizers from throughout the city who promised to distribute the ballots and bring people to the march.
Recently, Congress passed and President Clinton signed an earthquake aid bill that restricted illegal immigrants to short-term assistance. Gov. Pete Wilson has called for an end to automatic citizenship to children born here of illegal immigrants, and to emergency medical care to illegal immigrants at state-supported clinics and hospitals. And last year, court decisions forced some students who have lived in California for years but who could not show residency papers to pay out-of-state tuition at colleges and universities.
"There's a lot of anger," Gutierrez said. "The message has gotten out that one vote from an American is far more important than the dignity of an entire community."
Organizers said the march is the beginning of an intense effort to counter some of the proposals limiting the rights of illegal immigrants. And they hope it will provide an alternative to some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that they say goes unchecked.
"If we get 3,000 or 5,000 people there, this will inspire people to come forward and activate themselves," said Alvaro Maldonado, of the Pro-Immigrant Mobilization Coalition. "It also sends a message to the racists out there that if you are going to attack us, we are going to defend ourselves. It brings people into the fight."
Others see significant change on the horizon because of the numbers of immigrants who continue to flow into this country. They say they are disillusioned with the political and economic systems that cater to people with money and status while immigrants work, pay taxes and get no representation.
"We are starting a very important movement of the government as well as the people," said Maria Guardaro, who attended the Tuesday meeting. "To unite the people is going to be a big fight. But it makes me very happy because it has the potential of a very good ending."
Added Mauricia Miranda of Vecinos Unidos de Temple-Beaudry: "When we tell the politicians about problems, they say: 'Well, this is the system.' Well, let's change the system and don't be afraid."