By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
Along with their supporters, about 200 former Pacific Steel workers who recently lost their jobs after an immigration audit marched from downtown Berkeley on Feb. 17 to the steel plant in a peaceful protest of immigration laws.
Midmorning traffic was blocked for about an hour on two of Berkeley's major thoroughfares, University Avenue and San Pablo Avenue, as the group made its way to the plant. No arrests were made, according to Berkeley police.
|Dancers started off the march to Pacific Steel in Berkeley where 200 undocumented workers were fired late last year.|
Fourteen-year-old Metzli Blanco, whose father lost his job of 12 years at the plant, took a microphone down the street from the Second Street plant and summed up what many in the crowd said with their signs and songs.
"We live in a country founded on the blood, sweat and tears of people from other places," Blanco said. "We just want to work, pay our taxes and contribute to the community."
In February 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security demanded copies of forms of 600 employees to verify their residency status. In October, the company was forced to start firing 200 employees.
"The company had no choice," said Ignacio De La Fuente, vice president of the union that represents the steel workers and an Oakland City Councilman. "The workers did whatever they had to do to get a job, but that's not the point."
De La Fuente said the Obama administration was conducting similar raids around the country because "it's a presidential election year."
A statement from Pacific Steel Casting released Thursday said "we strenuously object to criticism the company was in any way complicit with the audit. These terminations were not only devastating to the workers and their families, but also the (remaining) workforce at PSC."
Jesus Cervantes, 32, of San Pablo, who worked at the steel plant for 5½ years, was fired after the audit. An undocumented resident, Cervantes said he made about $38,000 a year. He has three children, and his wife works for McDonalds.
"Life is getting tough now without a job," he said in Spanish, "and there's no work to be found."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.