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"We are human beings'

May Day rally brings out 3,000 strong


Herberth Aparicio looks out across a sea of white shirts, red, white and blue flags, and resolute faces. Reading from handwritten notes, he tells his personal story of survival.

He could have, he tells the crowd, been one of the 80,000 Salvadorans who disappeared or were killed during that country's bloody civil war, which began in 1980. He could have, as so many did, received a bullet between his eyes, leaving nothing more than an image, a photograph hanging in his mother's living room.

"But I am alive," Aparicio proclaims to the estimated 3,000 people gathered in Memorial Park for Monday's May Day rally, organized to remind people of the role that working immigrants play in the nation's economy. "This speaks of thousands of people whose only sin is to be alive, to stay alive.

"We are human beings. We have dreams, we want a shot at life ... We are working people who deserve to be treated as human beings."

Aparicio has been in the United States for 16 years. It took six of those for his official paperwork to be processed, for him to become a legal resident. Yet he considers himself one of the lucky ones. "It's well-known that the immigration system is broken," he says.

Last month, Aparicio helped form American Dream/Sueo Americano, a coalition to push for comprehensive reform of immigration policy. The group, which organized Monday's rally in the Springs, is one of three local immigration-focused organizations to form in the past several weeks, says Hector Suarez, program coordinator for another such organization: the Pikes Peak Immigrant and Refugee Collaborative, which provides services to immigrants. The third group is a consortium made up largely of immigrants who speak only Spanish.

Activities have ramped up since rallies to focus on immigration reform were held across the country on April 10. The rally in downtown Colorado Springs that day drew at least 1,000.

"We started basically with nothing, and now, a month later, there are three groups," says Suarez, a graduate of Colorado College.

Among the crowd on Monday was Colorado Springs Police Chief Luis Velez, who says he wanted to personally assess the peaceful event. Velez, who was born in Puerto Rico and learned English as a second language in New York schools, says he "certainly can empathize with the plight of these families" and their desire to improve their lives.

Lawmakers in Washington and across the country, Velez says, must come to grips with immigration. Proposals to label anyone without documents as a felon, the chief says, are unthinkable, "literally beyond the realm of law enforcement."

In Colorado Springs, there are currently 30,000 outstanding arrest warrants for suspects in misdemeanor and felony cases, Velez notes. If Colorado Springs were to suddenly consider all undocumented workers felons, that number likely would increase by at least 5,000.

"Immigrants have created this country, whether they have been Chinese or Russian or Polish," Velez says. "Of course, they pay taxes, buy products, and, for the most part, don't use up services."

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