The conference was organized around three demands: legalization of all immigrants, residency with civil and labor rights, and a halt to raids, deportations, and other acts of intimidation.
In the middle of an economic crisis that threatens the jobs, homes, and health of families, undocumented immigrants are being made the scapegoat by politicians and commentators, said Rosi Carrasco, a conference organizer and member of the Latino Organization of the Southwest, in opening the plenary session. But we are not responsible for the crisis. We have the right to be recognized as residents, to have papers, and to choose citizenship. Fundamentally we have the right to dignity.
We need to work to get the unions to support the May Day actions this year, said Jorge Mújica, a leader of the March 10 Movement and organizer for the United Electrical Workers. He pointed to several examples in the Chicago area where workers have successfully fought company attempts to fire workers over Social Security no-match letters.
At Wheatland Tube, a Chicago manufacturer of tubing and conduit, workers belonging to the United Steelworkers union have prevented the company from firing 63 workers with supposed discrepancies in their Social Security numbers, according to Héctor Gómez, a worker at the plant. For two years the company has been trying to fire these workers, Gómez said. Some have 17 years seniority, and the company wants to replace them with lower-paid new hires.
Twenty-five young people, most of them high school students, participated in a workshop on youth involvement in the immigrant rights struggle. Workshop participants are planning an April 12 citywide gathering where young people who want to organize for the May 1 march can come and speak out and learn, said Tania Unzueta, 24.
A panel took up immigrant rights and the elections. Speakers were Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. president Róger Calero, Green Party candidate for U.S. Congress in Illinois District 4 Omar López, and Shaun Harkin from the International Socialist Organization.
Later in the conference Mújica listed the positions of all the Democratic and Republican party candidates in the presidential election, pointing out that all of them support the border wall and none of them call for legalization of the undocumented.
Workshops were also held on the fight against racism, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), fighting anti-immigrant laws, and the impact of the war on the fight for legalization.
A workshop on organizing a Washington, D.C., lobby day May 1 discussed a proposal for legislation that would give five-year renewable visas to undocumented workers. Emma Lozano of Chicago immigrant rights organization Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) said the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is expected to introduce this legislation in March. Jesse Diaz, a professor at University of Illinois Chicago, urged delegations from major cities where May Day marches are organized to be part of the lobbying effort in Washington. Others spoke to the need to keep organizing visible actions in the streets.
I havent been to one of these meetings before, but I went to the march last year and I came to the conference when I heard about it, said Rosalba Priego from Chicago. We shouldnt be pessimistic, we need to keep doing this. We have the opportunity, we have the political strength, and we cannot be seen as victims.
The conference concluded with a call to unions, community organizations, and activists to organize a massive march on May Day in Chicago, with the participation of workers and immigrants from all the Midwest states, and to organize local demonstrations across the Midwest.
Immigrant workers plan May 1 march in Houston
Workers in Virginia protest bill empowering local cops to enforce federal immigration law
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