CLAREMONT - About 150 people joined a Pomona College dining hall workers protest Friday in which 15 participants were handcuffed and arrested.
"I feel mad. I feel sad. I feel angry," said former Pomona College cook Christian Torres after the arrests were made.
The protest, which was put together by unions including Unite Here, Claremont College students and had the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was titled "Stop Pomona College's Scrutiny of Immigrant Workers."
Pomona College fired 17 employees on Thursday after they could not provide proof of legal eligibility to work in the United States. The action came following complaints the college was not checking such eligibility of workers, as required by federal law.
The 15 people were arrested for obstructing traffic in the middle of the road and blocking the roadway, said Claremont Police Lt. Karlan Bennett.
Included in the 15 arrested, near Pomona College president David Oxtoby's office, was Jose Zapata Calderon, emeritus professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College.
Calderon earlier said he was upset at Pomona College's actions.
"At a time when there's an economic crisis, this college is perpetrating what is happening across this country and we know what happened in Germany when they targeted Jewish people. We know that masses of people it led them to the point of actually supporting the incarceration and incineration of millions of Jewish people under the pretext that they were the responsible for the lack of jobs and for the economic crisis. We have the same situation here, brothers and sisters, at Pomona College," he said.
Student Spencer Johnson, 18, was also arrested.
"I'm here to support the people who are being unjustly fired by the colleges," Johnson said nearly 30 minutes before he was arrested for sitting on North College Avenue near East Sixth Street with the 14 others.
Fontana resident Torres, 25, was one of 17 Pomona College employees fired on Thursday because he did not have proper documentation of legal residency.
"They found deficiencies in my paperwork," Torres said. He declined to answer when asked if he was a legal resident.
Earlier in the day, Torres confronted Pomona College dining services general manager Glenn Graziano in Frary Dining Hall with hundreds of protesters behind him.
Torres said to Graziano, "Every human has the right to work, and we're here to work."
In an interview later, Torres dismissed critics who are upset over undocumented residents who take American jobs.
"This country was founded by immigrants," Torres said. "Immigrants are a really big part of the fabric of the United States. I'm here to work. They're here to work."
Pomona College spokeswoman Cynthia Peters said Pomona College was a very "close-knit" community.
"You could see evidence of that by how many people care about affected staff members," Peters said. "There's certainly going to be an ongoing discussion and process in terms of healing the community and where do we go from here."
Peters said fired workers can go to human resources for unclaimed checks, which include eligible vacation hours and two weeks' salary for every year they worked for the college. The workers also have continuing health care from the college through June 30.
Torres said the rally was important for the dining hall workers who were dismissed.
"I want to let everybody know the workers in the dining hall ... workers' voices need to be heard. That's why we're behind this movement."
Of the fired 17 dining hall workers several worked at Pomona College for 10 to 20 years.
College officials said the request for proper documentation was being made of all employees hired in the past 25 years.