This protest brought to you by Miller beer

Immigrant rights supporters march through downtown Chicago on May 1, 2006.

SCOTT JAGOW: In Chicago today, hundreds of people set out on a 50-mile, four-day march for immigration rights. Their final destination is the district offices of House Speaker Dennis Hastert in Batavia, Illiniois. The protestors don't like the House immigration bill that would criminalize undocumented workers. There've been a lot of these protests this summer. So nothing too surprising here. Except that this political demonstration is being brought to you by Miller Brewing Company. From WBEZ in Chicago, Mike Rhee tells us what's brewing.


MIKE RHEE: At one of the pit stops along the march route, volunteers handed out bottles of water to protestors. No beer here. But a few weeks ago, at an organizing convention for this immigrants' march, Miller Brewing Company was in full force.

A company spokesperson says it spent more than $30,000 on promotional signs and brochures. Salome Amezcua is with the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition's Latino chapter. She helped organize the march. Amezcua says Miller was their biggest sponsor.
SALOME AMEZCUA: If it was not for them, the convention, financially, would not happen.

Miller's newfound support for the immigrants' movement comes after a backlash it suffered earlier this year.A Chicago immigration group boycotted Miller because the company had contributed money to U.S. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner. At the time Sensenbrenner was pushing a bill in Congress to crack down on illegal immigration.

JEREMY MOLEMAN: It's certainly a move that does carry some risks, and maybe some benefits, too, though.

Jeremy Moleman covers beer and liquor marketing for Advertising Age. With Miller being the number two seller of beer in the U.S., well behind Anheuser-Busch, Moleman says the company's looking at ways to cut into that lead.

MOLEMAN: A key sort of central piece of what they're doing now as they're trying to gain momentum is they're looking at this Hispanic market, which is a fast-growing market, and they think a market where they think they could be performing better than they have in the past.

A spokesperson from Miller says the company does not support illegal immigration. It does, however, support more discussions on creating legal paths to citizenship.

In Chicago, I'm Mike Rhee for Marketplace.

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