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Houston actions support immigrant workers

Published Dec 23, 2009 4:09 PM

Houstonians took to the streets for several days in mid-December in strong actions to support immigrant rights and immigration reform.

On Dec. 16, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez introduced immigration reform legislation in Congress. Many organizations are meeting with their constituencies to strategize about how to persuade Congress to pass the legislation; they are calling it long overdue. Lobbying has begun, and meetings with congressional representatives are being planned.

Houston protest, Dec. 18.
Photo: Stephanie Caballero

On Dec. 17, a mobilization billed as “Houston We Can’t Wait! Make Your Voice Heard!” was held in a constant rain at the Mickey Leland Federal Building. More than 75 people braved the unusually cold weather to march and call for “Immigration reform now!”

Students, religious leaders, immigrants, trade unionists and activists spoke to the media and chanted the following demands: “No more! No more raids. No more families being split. No more children without a secure future. No more time. The time for immigration reform is now!”

The spirited action was called by CRECEN (Centros de Recursos Centroamericanos), America Para Todos, FIEL (Familias Inmigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha), Pastores en Accion, and Alianza Mexicana por Una Reforma.

On Dec. 18, the International Day of the Migrant, Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Houston organized a militant demonstration at the Houston Processing Center where immigrants are detained. They protested the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on Dec. 2 of two Mambo’s restaurants and the detention of 33 restaurant workers, as part of calling for immigrants’ rights.

Under heavy scrutiny by both Houston cops and ICE agents, dozens of activists chanted: “What do we want? Immigrant rights! How do we get it? Melt the ICE!” “Immigrantes, escucha, estamos en su lucha” and “Immigration is not a crime. Why are people doing time?”

After activists from SDS and the International Action Center spoke, three women sang songs from the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement, which they had translated into Spanish. They were Monica from Ecuador, Amelia from Mexico and Laura Boston of the Houston Interfaith Workers Justice Center. Some of the verses were re-written to reflect the issues of the immigrant rights movement.

“When we traveled across the South a few years ago on an Immigrant Freedom Ride, we stayed in houses of people involved in the movement in the 1960s in Selma, Jackson, Montgomery and Atlanta,” Maria Jimenez explained to Workers World. “It was so moving to hear of their courageous battles for African Americans. We learned so much from them. So we translated their songs so we could use them in our struggle.”

The Houston Processing Center, which houses more than 900 prisoners, was the first private prison in the United States; it is owned by Corrections Corporations of America. According to CCA’s Web page, CCA’s revenues in the first quarter of 2009 were more than $404 million. Today private companies operate dozens of detention centers for immigrants all across the country.