Civil rights icon and gay-friendly U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta) made a last-minute surprise appearance at the rally, telling participants, “There is no illegal human being. If anyone is illegal, everyone is illegal. If anyone is going to be arrested, I stand ready to be arrested with you. The jails in America are not big enough to hold all of us.”
On March 14, the Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 40, sponsored by state Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming), which is designed to “enhance the use of the federal E-Verify system and to allow local and state law enforcement officers to help federal authorities identify illegal immigrants in Georgia,” according to a press release from Murphy.
On March 3, lawmakers passed House Bill 87, named the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011â” but called by opponents the “Show Me Your Papers” law. HB 87 is sponsored by state Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City).
The bills are now being considered for final passage in the waning days of the legislative session.
The legislation will “protect citizens from an unlawful burden on taxpayer-funded services by requiring the use of only secure and verifiable identification documents for any official purpose, including the dispensation of public benefits,” Ramsey stated in a press release.
Among other things, the bills give local police authority to stop people and ask them to verify their citizenship status and also mandate employers use E-verify, a federal database, which Congress set up as a voluntary resource for employers to check the immigration status of potential employees.
In a response to the rally, Ramsey told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “In contrast to these liberal sign-waiving activists at the Capitol, all over the state today there are millions of Georgia citizens working and raising their families who no longer are willing to accept the loss of job opportunities to the nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in our state or to subsidize their presence with their hard earned tax dollars.”
Rep. Bell dismissed the arguments of supporters of the bills who insist they are not about racial profiling even though the laws would allow local law enforcement with reasonable suspicion to ask a person for proof of citizenship.
“If you have never been profiled, if you have never been stopped, unless you are a brown person in America you have no idea what that’s about,” she said. “Peace and love. Si se puede!”
“Si se puede,” or “Yes we can,” was a popular chant during the hours-long rally that included many speakers and pastors giving their speeches in Spanish.
Signs in the crowd made up mostly of Hispanic people included, “Immigrant rights are human rights,” “No human being is illegalâ” and “Stop the hate.”
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Atlanta-based lesbian folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, also performed their hit “Shame on You.”
Lyrics for the song written by Ray more than 10 years ago include:
“Let’s go road block trippin’ in the middle of the night Up in Gainesville town There’ll be blue lights flashin’ down the long dirt road When they ask us to step out They say, “We be looking for illegal immigrants Can we check your car?” I say, “You know it’s funny I think we were on the same boat Back in 1694.”
The gay and lesbian community needs to be involved in fighting against the proposed immigration laws, said Amy Ray in an interview with the GA Voice before the Indigo Girls performed on the Capitol steps.
“Everyone should be involved … especially queers because of the idea of being oppressed. We are all fighting the same enemy of intolerance and greed,” she said.
Paul Turner, the gay pastor for Gentle Christian Church, was part of the rally’s contingent of about a dozen faith leaders to address the crowd.
“Our state is your state despite what they are trying to do you,” he said to the vocal crowd. “In God’s Kingdom, there are no illegals. Welcome home, stay here.”
Also speaking was lesbian Rev. Glenna T. Shepherd of Decatur United Church of Christ.
“I acknowledge as we gather prayerfully this morning that immigration is a complex issue. It’s filled with exception and nuance. But the complexity does not excuse us from taking a stand against blatant injustice,” she said.
Capitol police estimated today’s crowd at approximately 4,000 while organizers said the rally attracted nearly 10,000 from across the state.
The rally was organized by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Georgia Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition with help from the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, headed up by openly gay executive director Jerry Gonzalez; and Southerners on New Ground, a membership-based, Southern regional organization made up of working class, people of color, immigrants, and rural LGBTQ people.
View a photo album of the March 24 “Rally for Truth” at the State Capitol here.
Top photo: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers from Indigo Girls perform at “Rally for Truth” (by Dyana Bagby)