Full rights for immigrants
Mass protests answer moves to criminalize undocumented workers
Published Mar 29, 2006 11:49 PM
A groundswell of protests involving millions of
people, from Los Angeles to Boston, has resoundingly answered attempts to pass
the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner-King bill, passed in December in the U.S. House
of Representatives as HR 4437 and currently being debated in the Senate.
The estimated 11-12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. consider
this bill an outrageous threat to criminalize them—and thus a declaration
of war. The protests signal that immigrants form a powerful community that can
fight back and that has allies.
“There has never been this kind of
mobilization in the immigrant community ever. They have kicked the sleeping
giant. It’s the beginning of a massive immigrant civil rights
struggle”, said Joshua Hoyt, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition
for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a 120-member coalition of organizations. (Los
Angeles Times, March 26)
Upwards of 1 million workers, the vast majority
from Latin America, flooded downtown Los Angeles on March 25 in one of
the largest demonstrations ever held in that city. Organizers had expected
around 15,000. The crush of people was so great that access to the parade route
had to be closed even as buses were still arriving. The racist
“Minutemen” have been active in the area, threatening people along
the border, and momentum from that struggle helped bring many organizations
together. The organizers have called for a follow-up boycott of work, school and
shopping on May 1.
More than 150,000 had come out in Chicago two
weeks earlier, starting the process, but the sea of people that filled the
streets near Los Angeles City Hall inspired and gave courage to those protesting
across the country. Immigrants and their supporters are making their voices
heard as the debate on immigration “reform” heats up.
4437 a provocation
Washington Heights, NYC
WW photo: Arturo Pérez Saad
HR 4437 treats undocumented workers as felons,
subject not only to deportation but to prison time. It would levy huge fines
against employers who hire undocumented workers, classifying these employers as
“alien smugglers.” HR 4437 would also crack down on religious and
community groups who provide assistance for undocumented workers and their
Other repressive legislation that has been introduced in
Congress proposes building a steel fence along the 700-mile U.S. and Mexican
border and also handing Halliburton Corp. billions of dollars to build the
equivalent of concentration camps to house detained undocumented workers.
Demonstrations have been reported in scores of cities and smaller towns,
organized by coalitions of Latin@, Caribbean, Asian, Pacific Island and African
immigrants, unions, churches and community groups opposed to this draconian
legislation and similar measures being proposed in several states.
areas, like Boston, where Service Employees and UNITE HERE unions as well
as Jobs with Justice helped organize the action, European immigrant workers from
Ireland and Poland also joined the march of 10,000. Boston’s Puerto Rican
City Councilor Felix Arroyo told the crowd, “The more they try to divide
us the more we will unite.”
In Washington, D.C., where 40,000
rallied earlier in the month, 100 activists wore handcuffs at the Capitol at the
start of the Senate hearings to protest the bill that would criminalize undoc
umented workers as well as those who provide them with aid or
Tens of thousands rallied in Milwaukee, where dozens of
businesses also closed in protest; in Phoenix 20,000 came out in the
largest protest in that city’s history. On Sunday, immigrant rights
demonstrations took place in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, with
the Farm Labor Organizing Committee providing bus transportation from Toledo.
Over the weekend protests were held in Dallas; Trenton,
N.J.; and Sacramento and San Jose, Calif., where a small rally
spontaneously grew to a three-mile long walk. In Charlotte, N.C., some
7,000 people rallied in Marshall Park March 25, saying, “Don’t make
me a criminal.” Some 700 also rallied in the small southern town of
In San Francisco, 20 immigrant rights
advocates began their fifth day of a hunger strike in front of the Federal
Building. In Atlanta hundreds of demonstrators converged on the steps of
the State Capitol, while tens of thousands of workers stayed home from their
jobs to protest a Georgia state bill that would deny services to undocumented
Denver organizers say 150,000 came to the March 25 rally,
many more than anticipated. They spontaneously turned it into a march that led
into the downtown areas, filling up the streets for over half an hour.
New York City’s Manhattan borough, what began with around 300
people grew to 1,500 in a march three lanes wide and at least eight blocks long.
Marchers chanted “La lucha obrera, no tiene fronteras” (There are no
borders in the workers’ struggle) and “Somos trabajadores, no somos
criminales” (We are workers, not criminals). Across the East River in
Queens, the U.S. county with immigrants from the greatest number of
countries, hundreds packed a school auditorium to hear pro-immigrant speeches
translated to English, Spanish, Bangla and Urdu.
estimated that more than 50,000 people came out in that city. The mostly Latin@
throng was the largest political gathering in recent decades. Many businesses
had to close as their employees took to the streets.
In addition, high
school students in several major cities including Detroit, Los Angeles,
and Dallas walked out of classes on March 27 to join in protests.
Officials of Huntington Park High School in L.A. locked the gates after classes
started, but the students climbed over a chain-link fence to join marchers who
were walking the streets and chanting.
In Houston as many as
10,000 students joined a protest March 25 to support the DREAM Act, which would
give immigrant students, even those without documents, access to higher
education and temporary residence with a path toward eventual citizenship. On
March 27 hundreds more youths walked out of Eisenhower High School and marched 9
miles to an immigration office. The next day students walked out of other
schools and, when some were arrested by sheriffs, the youths quickly organized
Immigrant rights activists in Phila delphia,
who had organized a Feb. 14 Day Without an Immigrant rally, held a press
conference March 27 to announce plans for a National Day of Action for Immi
grant Rights on Monday, April 10. Protests are already scheduled for several
Over a week of demonstrations has led the Senate Judiciary
Committee to amend the House bill by removing a provision to prosecute churches
and charitable groups who provide assistance to undocumented workers. However,
the Committee also approved an amendment that would more than double the current
11,300 Border Patrol agents, while doing nothing to stop the growth of the
This current anti-worker racist legislation is in
reality directed against all workers, whether they are organized or unorganized,
documented or undocumented. Like the late 1970’s racist “get tough
on crime” legislative craze in the post-Vietnam War period, which has led
to the imprisonment of millions of workers and poor, predominantly people of
color, the anti-immigration campaign pits worker against worker in an attempt to
divert attention away from the growing economic crisis rocking the capitalist
system, fueled by new, unprecedented military spending.
unity and solidarity are needed more than ever to fight against attempts by
major companies like GM and Delphi to strip workers of their pensions and
permanently lay off over 125,000; to oppose the genocidal war against Iraq being
waged for the profits of oil monopolies; and to demand rights for the Katrina
evacuees. To keep the workers from coming together, the bosses and their
politicians are trying to place the blame for capitalism’s crisis of
overproduction on those workers they think are the least able to resist.
However, as the undocumented take a stand against these attacks, they are
setting an example for workers everywhere to follow. The workers, united, can
never be defeated!
John Parker, Arturo Pérez Saad, Bryan
Pfeifer, Gloria Rubac, Larry Hales, Molly Owen, Kris Hamel, David Dixon and
others contributed to this article.
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