CHELSEA, Mass. — Thousands of immigrants and their advocates marched through the streets of Everett and Chelsea on Saturday to demand immigration reform and denounce a controversial Arizona law which allows authorities to question people about immigration status.
Chanting, “Si, se puede,” or “Yes, we can,” protesters marched through Latino neighborhoods on their way to a larger rally in East Boston as curious onlookers abruptly left barbershops, restaurants and clothing stores to join them. Motorists honked horns and residents — some watching from four-story apartment buildings — cheered and waved American flags.
The march, which organizers say drew about 3,000 people, was one of many planned immigrant rallies around the Boston area and the nation for the annual May 1 rallies to honor workers’ rights. A smaller rally was held on the Boston Common.
“This is a historical day,” said Antonio Amaya, director of La Comunidad Inc., an Everett-based immigrant rights organization. “We are here to say, ‘President Obama, immigration reform is needed now. We’re no longer going to wait. Now.’ ”
During the march, some protesters even yelled in Spanish, “Obama, listen! We’re in the fight.”
Among those marching were immigrant families and American citizens who have immigrant relatives. “I’m here for my mom,” said Brenda Rivera, 17, of Chelsea, Mass. “She’s an immigrant from El Salvador, and she is going through a lot of problems at work. We need to have our voices heard.”
Others wanted to come out to decry the controversial Arizona immigration law. On Friday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a follow-on bill approved by Arizona legislators that she says should ease concerns that the measure will lead to racial profiling.
The changes include one strengthening restrictions against using race or ethnicity as the basis for questioning by Arizona police. Also, police cannot ask people immigration-status questions unless they’ve been stopped, detained or arrested for violating another law.
Amaya said those revisions didn’t mean much. “I believe just a few words of the law has changed, but the profiling is going to continue,” he said.
Davonte Jordan, 16, of Boston, said the revision didn’t change his mind about the Arizona law. He held a sign that read: “Arizona is Jim Crow. Wake up America.”
John Pells, 30, said he hadn’t heard about the changes to the Arizona law. But he said immigrants still had other concerns, like helping undocumented immigrant students get in-state tuition in Massachusetts.
“These children came over against their will,” said Pells, a Cape Cod Community College student. “But this is their home.”
Amaya said some immigrant voters are so upset that President Barack Obama has not pushed immigration reform as promised, they are wondering if they should have supported Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. “We hope this rally wakes him up,” he said.
Patricia Montes, of Centro Presente, an immigrant-rights group based in Somerville, said the rallies were an example of the diverse coalition that has been built around the push for federal immigration reform. She pointed to the crowd of Brazilian, Latino and Asian immigrant protesters at the East Boston rally.
“This is not the end,” Montes said. “We are going to continue this fight until we get immigration reform.”