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May Day in OR: A Plea, a Protest, a Celebration

April 30, 2010

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon's annual International Workers' Day event in Salem is typically a celebration for the immigrant community – but this year, a more serious tone is expected for Saturday's gathering. The tough new immigration law passed in Arizona has cast a shadow over the entire Latino community.

However, it also has galvanized them to push harder for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress. So, Marlen Torres of the farmworkers' rights group PCUN says there are mixed feelings about how to approach this May Day.

"A lot of people are upset; a lot of people are saying, 'We need to march, we need to do something.' But then, we also need to take a break and celebrate ourselves, you know - what we have done here, what we have contributed to Oregon."

Thirty percent of Arizonans are Hispanic, compared to eleven percent of Oregonians, but Latinos are a major part of the Oregon farm industry, tending crops from strawberries to Christmas trees. In Marion County alone, Latinos' contribution to the economy is estimated at $600 million a year. Francisco Lopez, executive director of the immigrants' rights coalition CAUSA, says their numbers and financial contributions to the economy are on the rise.

"The social fabric and economic fabric of this state depends on that 11 percent - maybe it will be more this year, the Census will tell us that probably the number is up to 15 percent Latinos - and it's making sure that democracy works for everybody."

The Arizona law has fired up all sides in the immigration reform debate. It allows local police to question and detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, which typically is a federal law enforcement responsibility, and requires immigrants to carry proof of their status. It has been criticized as a racial profiling tool and a way to harass Hispanics.

Lopez says a comprehensive immigration plan must include a clear path for people who have already been in the United States for years to gain citizenship. However, opponents of the plan believe they should not be 'rewarded' with citizenship if they broke the law to get here.

The event takes place at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, from noon to 8:00 p.m. Admission is free.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR