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Petaluma to San Francisco marchers promote immigration bill before Congress

North Bay marchers promote immigration bill before Congress
North Bay marchers promote immigration bill before Congress 03:17

PETALUMA -- On Sunday, a group of immigrants and their allies in the North Bay embarked on a 3-day march to San Francisco to support a bill before Congress that lets Homeland Security grant lawful permanent resident status to certain longterm immigrants.

In the late 1920s, the "tired, poor, huddled masses" of immigrants arriving from Europe fulfilled the famous promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Those who lived here for seven years became eligible to stay permanently but, in the 1980s, that door was slammed shut.

"If we don't do something, no one's going to do it for us," said Renee Saucedo. "If we need to walk three days for these Congresspeople to wake up, that's what we're going to do."

Saucedo, who is a coordinator for a group called ALMAS Libres, organized the march that began Saturday in Petaluma in Sonoma County and won't end until they reach downtown San Francisco. About 100 people committed to the 40-mile-long hike and, if the protest didn't wake people up, the raucous music blaring from a support van surely did. Fifteen-year-old Angeline Sanchez said it took some of the difficulty out of the trek.

"I like it," she said. "Our legs are kind of tired but it's all right. It feels like you're part of a movement -- which you are. And, yeah, it's super fun!"

The cause is serious. Protesters want Congress to pass HR 1511, known as the "Registry bill."

"The Registry bill, all it says is that if an undocumented person has lived in the U.S. for at least seven years continuously, they may apply for legal, permanent residency," Saucedo explained.

It's basically the same deal offered to Europeans, on condition that applicants stay out of legal trouble while living here. Many have lived in the United States for decades and Dr. Chris Barker said he gained a lot of respect for them after working in an immigrant health clinic.

"I saw how hard-working the people were that came into the office," he said. "They didn't need a week off work.  They needed me to get them better tomorrow so they could work the next day."

He said that, to him, the Registry bill sounds like a good deal for the country.

"Instead of standing in line seven years ago, they worked for seven years and are then getting in line. And, you know, I think that's OK," Dr. Barker said.

After a brief break at a San Rafael church to eat, drink and get out of the hot sun, the march continued.  Although the feet were getting pretty sore, Joseph Cervantes, who was born in the U.S., said he was walking for those who came before him.

"Our people have endured more than that and they've been through more," Cervantes said.  "I mean, it's hard but I have a motivation, you know?  I'm determined and focused so it's all worth it, you know?"

The marchers will stay overnight Sunday at a camp in Mill Valley. Then it's on to the Golden Gate Bridge, where they will meet  with more protesters,  then complete the walk to the Federal Building near San Francisco Civic Center.

There are marches for immigration reform going on all over the country this week but the march from Petaluma to S.F. is thought to be the longest. The immigrants in Sonoma County came up with the idea. They said they wanted to prove they are committed to continue the march to reform no matter how far it takes them.

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