Protests in DC, across
press for immigrant rights
Next actions demanding legalization
set for May 1
Tens of thousands rally in Washington, D.C., April 10, to press for legalization of undocumented workers in midst of debate in Congress over immigration “reform.” Recent polls indicate growing support for immigrant rights struggle, a key question for unity of working class.
BY GLOVA SCOTT
AND PAUL PEDERSON
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tens of thousands filled the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol here April 10 to demand legalization for some 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S.
The protest, whose central theme was “Now is the Time” for citizenship, took place as Democratic and Republican senators are preparing to introduce bipartisan immigration “reform” legislation.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted a few days before found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed say they support giving citizenship to undocumented workers who have a job.
The demonstration here was hosted by Casa de Maryland, a social service group for immigrants, and Service Employees International Union 32BJ. Organizers say 300 buses organized by labor, church and immigrant rights groups brought participants from the East Coast, South and Midwest.
While overwhelmingly composed of workers from Mexico and Central America, contingents of Asian and African immigrants were also prominent at the rally, as were union contingents that included U.S.-born Caucasian and African-American workers from SEIU, Laborers International Union, Communications Workers of America, United Food and Commercial Workers, United Auto Workers and others.
Scores of demonstrations took place across the country in conjunction with the D.C., action. Immigrant rights actions are planned around the country for May 1, international workers day.
Immigrant workers ‘deserve rights’
“They deserve rights as workers,” Gabriel Terronez, president of United Auto Workers Local 434 and a worker at the John Deere plant in Moline, Ill., told the Militant. Terronez was part of a UAW contingent that arrived in two buses from Chicago.
“They deported my husband to Mexico seven months ago after he was stopped in his car by the police,” said Enid Herrera from Riverdale, Md.
“We want to go to school to have a good job and we can’t because we have no papers,” said Fanta Toure, from Jersey City, N.J., who was born in the Ivory Coast.
“I came here when I was 15 years old and I’ve been undocumented for eight years now,” said Jung Rae Jang, a student at New York’s Hunter College.
The rally date was chosen to commemorate massive protests that took place April 10, 2006, in more than 70 cities in opposition to the Sensenbrenner bill, passed by the House of Representatives, which sought to brand all undocumented workers as felons. On May 1, 2006, some 2 million people across the country joined protests, giving these actions the character of a nationwide political strike. Not only did the Sensenbrenner bill go down to defeat, but the fight for immigrant rights won broader sympathy among working people.
Speakers at the Washington action included NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, who gave the keynote talk; Casa de Maryland Executive Director Gustavo Torres; SEIU President Mary Kay Henry; former farmworker leader Dolores Huerta; Rep. Luis Gutierrez from Chicago; and Sen. Robert Menendez, a member of the so-called gang of eight — four Democratic and four Republican senators who are preparing the immigration bill.
There must be “a full pathway to citizenship,” Jealous told the crowd.
“It is in the nation’s interests, it is in the economic interests, it is in the security interests of the United States to have a comprehensive immigration reform,” Menendez said, where the undocumented can “earn their citizenship.”
The gang of eight’s bill would include a “road to citizenship” for those who arrived in the U.S. before 2012, prove they have a job, pay back taxes and substantial fines, learn English and pass criminal background checks. Those who qualify would receive temporary work status, but could not apply for permanent residency for at least 10 years, or until the government certifies that border control is 90 percent effective.
President Barack Obama’s proposals are similar, except that he says that the border is already secure.
Bill would expand ‘guest workers’
At the same time their proposal includes tightened border enforcement and making use of the E-Verify system mandatory nationwide — an Internet database that allows bosses to check on the immigration status of employees. To ensure that bosses still have access to superexploitable workers with fewer rights, the bill includes an expanded “guest worker” program for construction, meatpacking, hotels and other so-called unskilled trades.
Gutierrez criticized high numbers of deportations and other attacks on immigrant workers under Obama, while praising the administration’s “deferred action” program that granted a stay of deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people. Like most other speakers on the platform, Gutierrez spoke favorably about “reform” proposals being prepared in Congress, but didn’t address anything specific about them.
Many at the demonstrations were critical of the proposed legislation.
“Some people say you should wait in line. There should be no restrictions and it should be done as quickly and easily as possible,” Jon Melegrito, co-chair of national Filipinos for Family Reunification in Maryland, told the Militant.
“I’m sure there are parts of this reform that will need to be reformed,” said Eric Lopez, whose parents immigrated to the D.C. area from Guatemala.
Waiting 10 years to qualify for permanent residency “is not the kind of reform we want,” Juan Bocanegra, spokesperson for El Comite Pro-Reforma Migratoria, told a rally of nearly 100 in downtown Seattle the same day.
Edwin Fruit in Seattle and Deborah Liatos in N.Y. contributed to this article.
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