The word on Franklin Street

Rally backs immigrants

Staff WriterMay 2, 2006 

— Juan Rivera sat on a stack of plywood outside University United Methodist Church on Monday as a small group rallied for immigration reform down the street.

The 23-year-old construction worker from Puebla, Mexico, was supporting the national boycott by not paying bills or buying gasoline, he said.

But he had to work.

"Necesito, por dinero," he said. ["I need to, for money."]

As the immigration issue took the national stage Monday, it also spilled onto the streets of Chapel Hill's Franklin Street. Lantern restaurant on West Franklin Street posted signs explaining it was shutting down to support its immigrant workers.

At Carrboro Elementary School, where one in five students is Hispanic, Principal Ibis Nunez said a number of students had excused absences because their parents were taking them to rallies.

On Franklin Street, minister Maria Palmer said she supports a guest worker program and denounced a House bill that would make illegal immigrants felons.

Palmer, a native of Peru, held a cardboard sign quoting Solomon: "When foreigners pray, may you hear from heaven and do whatever foreigners ask of you," (II Chronicles 6:32-33).

"In his wisdom he knew that if foreigners prospered, the whole community is blessed," said Palmer, a former member of the state Board of Education. "If we don't realize that in America, we're confused."

About eight people stood chanting before a crowd of about 30 UNC-Chapel Hill students joined them. The group marched down Franklin Street, taking up a lane of traffic, then back. A truck driver who disagreed with the boycott leaned on his horn, trying to drown out their voices. He and the other men in the dual-cab black truck gave the group a thumbs down.

Joseph Puentes, a postal worker from Rougemont, said he came to Chapel Hill hoping to find a rally. The 52-year-old's grandparents emigrated from Jalisco and Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1911, he said.

"People tend not to take a position," he said, holding a small American flag. "I just want to bring the subject up and in a small way make them have to choose."

At the church, where workers are replacing the slate roof, Rivera said he has been back to Puebla just once in the past three years.

He can make $90 a day here, six times what he made in Mexico, he said.

He and his brother live in Durham, and he sends about $200 home to his parents each month.

But he said he did not feel he had a choice when he came here.

"No por gusto, por necesidad," he said. ["Not for pleasure, out of necessity."]

(Staff writer Patrick Winn contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Mark Schultz can be reached at 932-2003 or

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