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Immigration marchers head for Medford city streets

Saying that undocumented immigrants are already here ' contributing to the local economy by working and paying taxes ' members of the Latino community will march in downtown Medford today in support of a Senate bill that would smooth the way to citizenship for these workers.

The march coincides with large demonstrations occurring all week in Hispanic-rich cities, where protesters are demanding a fair and reasonable process that lets everyone be a winner, said Milo Salgado of Medford, who will attend today's rally.

The focus of the march is a bill approved this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a rare bipartisan vote. The bill would increase border security, allow more guest-worker permits and decriminalize the 11 million undocumented Latinos in the U.S., creating clear procedures for them to earn citizenship without leaving the country first.

Local marchers are a loose group of community leaders called Unete (Unite in Spanish). They will meet at — p.m. today in Medford's Alba Park, march on Main Street to Vogel Park, then along Eighth Street to the Justice Building, where they will give speeches. Participants are being asked to wear white as a symbol of peace.

This is a global, human problem, not a Mexico-U.S. problem or a border problem ' and it's gotten out of hand, said Salgado. It's time to do something.

— The immigration debate has become thorny for both Democrats and Republicans because both parties court the swelling Latino vote. In addition, all parts of the economy use cheaper Latino labor ' yet parties must placate Anglo fears around losing jobs, one march supporter said.

It's fear of the unknown, fear of people they haven't had the opportunity to meet, said Kathy Keesee of Medford.

Keesee, a child of Japanese immigrants who is married to a permanent U.S. resident from Mexico, said the march hopes to represent immigrants from all countries and focus on the contribution they make socially, culturally and economically.

Immigrants work in a lot of jobs that are undesirable to Anglos. They are a vital part of the agriculture and tourism industries and I believe if they were all deported, the economy would collapse, said Keesee.

Marchers hope to get across the message that, contrary to rumors that Latinos suck dry the country's social, legal and other services, they instead contribute large amounts of labor, pay taxes on their incomes and don't use governmental services out of proportion to their numbers, Keesee noted.

Salgado echoed that view, disputing fears that Latinos are taking away benefits and opportunities they don't have the right to, but the reality is very different. For the most part, they work very hard and are much needed.

He added, We do need secure borders, but you can't say just turn around and go home. Right now, it's like a dysfunctional family that doesn't want to see their problems until they get in crisis. The Irish and Italians faced these same issues and cultural differences. They earned legal status ' and we need a just way to earn that, too.

Marlene Yesquen, of the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services in Medford and daughter of Peruvian immigrants, said she will march today because we support just immigration and protest criminalization of immigrants (as in the House's version of the immigration bill).

We have a lot of support from every part of the community. Everyone already knows we're part of the community here and that (immigrants) are what this country is made of.

Corporate relations director Bill Ihle of Bear Creek Corp., a longtime employer of migrant laborers, said the firm has not studied the bill and has no comment. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also declined comment.

As the Senate bill now stands, it would allow legal residency pending a fine of &

36;1,000 paid by illegal immigrants, faithful payment of taxes, background checks, and application for citizenship after six years of residency and mastery of English.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.