A few hundred immigration activists descended Sunday on Pomona College to protest Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration law and the policies of commencement speaker Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Demonstrators said Napolitano has continued to expand immigration programs that they say were precursors to Arizona's law, which requires police officers to check the immigration status of anybody they stop and suspect may be here illegally.
Among those policies are the 287(g) program, which allows local police officers to enforce federal immigration law, and Secure Communities, which enables law enforcement officers to cross-check the criminal history and immigration status of people they arrest. Both programs operate under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"Brothers and sisters, although we are seeking to stop the type of enforcement and racial profiling policies that are being carried out in Arizona, the reality is that some of those policies are here in our backyard," Jose Calderon, professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College, told the crowd.
Department of Homeland Security officials did not return calls for comment Sunday.
Organizers said they do not oppose the deportation of dangerous criminals but said immigrants who have committed minor offenses and U.S. citizens have been wrongly deported.
"Rather then putting an end to these discriminatory policies, Napolitano has called for these programs, especially Secure Communities, to be expanded to every city across the nation by 2013," Calderon added.
The two-mile march and rally were organized by the May 16 Coalition, a group made up of students, union and immigrant workers, professors, community leaders and local groups based in the Inland Valley region. As demonstrators marched, they were applauded and given the thumbs up by honking drivers.
Just several yards from where the commencement ceremony was taking place, the crowd began chants, including " Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha!" (Obama listen, we're in a struggle). Demonstrators banged on drums and waved signs that read Alto Az (Stop Arizona) and No mas racista (No more racism).
Across the street, about a dozen silent counter protesters held American flags and signs supporting Arizona.
Those attending the commencement ceremony said they could hear the crowd but still were able to hear Napolitano speak. Luisa Towne, 55, whose husband received an honorary doctorate, said she didn't mind the demonstration.
"That's what you're supposed to do, you get loud and you let government officials know there's a problem here," Towne said.
Minutes after Napolitano spoke, demonstrators marched to a nearby park, where they held a rally.
"I'm pretty sure [Napolitano] heard our message," said Eddie Gonzalez, a representative with the Inland Empire Day Laborer Congress.
Calderon added, "Even if she didn't hear us, we wanted the parents and the community to hear us, and they did."