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About 120 Harvard students streamed through the Yard yesterday evening in a candlelight vigil and march protesting a recently-passed California law that would deny public services to illegal immigrants.
"We want to get people's attention, to make some noise and let everyone know we're concerned about this," said first-year Education School student Katrina L. Sandoval, referring to the initiative known as Proposition 187.
Participants in the protest met at 7 p.m. in Harvard Square and marched through the Yard to the Science Center, chanting "Down with 187..support human rights," "Hey, hey, ho, ho, xenophobia has got to go," and "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"
The protest was organized by students at various graduate schools and the Coalition Against 187, a student group formed only two days ago.
Another group member, first-year Divinity School student Adolfo J. Menendez, argued that Proposition 187 violates universal human rights.
"It's not simply an issue about Latinos or Latinas or Asians, but it's a human rights issue because we're denying human beings basic rights," Menendez said.
A statement issued by the Coalition Against 187 billed the law as a "quick-fix,' 'feel-good' solution that blames undocumented people for the larger, complex problems of California's economy."
Students said Proposition 187 punishes immigrants for California's financial woes.
"This kind of legislation blames people like my father, and by implication me, for the economic problems of this country," said Asian-American Association (AAA) Co-President Alex H. Cho '96.
Proposition 187 has a disturbing historical precedent, some students said. Frank B. Barnes, a first-year student at the Education School and a member of the Coalition Against 187, argued that the law was similar to slavery codes.
"They didn't call us immigrants then...they called us chattel, property," he said. "This is a history of oppression. This is a history of targeting a group of people to do the work."
Protesters said they particularly feared the consequences of the "suspicion clause," which requires employers, teachers and others to report anyone they believe is an illegal alien to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"We know that's going to play out in terms of physical characteristics, or maybe an accent or last name," Menendez said.
Students who spoke at the end of the march said Proposition 187 was part of a national trend toward xenophobia.
"This happened in California, but there is already talk about similar legislation being introduced in other states," said Education School student Dennis Lopez, who is a member of the Latino-Chicano Student Movement.
AAA Education and Political Committee Co-Chair Veronica S. Jung '97, who organized a Nov. 7 Widener tabling against Proposition 187, said she views the law as part of "a frightening trend to view a group of people as 'the other.'"
The attitude behind Proposition 187 is "spreading like a sinister disease," Barnes said.
The Coalition is planning to sponsor a forum on human rights on Dec. 1, and members hope the group will outlast the California initiative and go on to address similar measures in the future.
"Our government should not support anything of this sort. When they do, they lose the moral capacity to govern," Menendez said.
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