Walk the Walk

Can shoe leather and signs change immigration law?

But Kerr isn't universally popular. Some say Kerr is good at protesting, but not much else. Ana Yanez Correa, chief of staff to state Rep. Domingo Garcia, accuses him of creating "false hope." She says Kerr's efforts are focused more toward getting media attention, not more prosaic functions, such as letter writing, testifying at legislative hearings and learning English. Despite attracting thousands, Correa says last year's amnesty march was a bust because it was held on Saturday in an empty downtown.

"The rallies are only for Channels 23 and 52, which is why they do it," says Correa, referring to Dallas' Univision and Telemundo affiliates. "Instead of marching in front of an empty building, he could be marching in front of the Legislature right now," she says. Redistricting, driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, and in-state college tuition for immigrant children are all at stake.

Kerr refutes the criticism, which he blames on two divides in the local Hispanic community: a schism between new immigrants and older (voting) residents, and a bitter longstanding political rivalry between Alonzo and Garcia, who in 1996 unseated Alonzo in the state Legislature after a heated Democratic primary. He points out that immigration activists went to Washington several times last year and says his group fights for many issues that Correa cites.

Immigration activist Paul Kerr is a whiz at organizing marches, but his critics say that's not enough to change U.S. policy.
Immigration activist Paul Kerr is a whiz at organizing marches, but his critics say that's not enough to change U.S. policy.

And Kerr scoffs at the idea that he's spreading false hope by fighting for seemingly unattainable goals. "That's a very common argument against any kind of social change," he says, once used against women's suffrage and civil rights movements. Principled stands, Kerr argues, resonate with his supporters and will pay off in the long run. "Asking for more than you can get," he says, "makes it possible to get more than you think you can."

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