Monday, April 24, 2006

Immigrant-rights groups agree to disagree over May 1 boycott calls:4/24/2006

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON – After the coordinated April 10 National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights, the hundreds of organizations that pulled events together in 160 different cities are looking to follow up with a second day of action May 1.

But while there's widespread agreement to do "something" that day, there's less unanimity about what, and particularly about whether to support the call by some for boycotting school, work and/or the marketplace.

Supporters of a boycott say it would show the impact immigrants, legal and illegal, and those who support them, have on the economy of the United States.

Activities planned in different cities range from prayer vigils to voter education projects, and cultural celebrations to marches.

In Mexico a campaign has begun to boycott U.S. goods, services and companies as a reflection of the importance of Mexican consumers to the U.S. economy.

At an April 20 press conference in Washington, representatives of some of the major regional and national organizations behind the events said they agreed they would not call for people to boycott work or school that day, but neither would they necessarily criticize those who are encouraging a boycott.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland, said he met earlier that day with some of the boycott leaders.

"We agreed to disagree," Torres said. "We agreed to respect each other and work together on the same goals."

Several participants in the press conference said their organizations believe a boycott is a valid tool in the campaign for comprehensive immigration reform and that they might support an economic and employment boycott at some future point.

Cristina Lopez, deputy executive director of the Washington-based Center for Community Change, said while her group was not supporting a boycott, neither was the group specifically discouraging people from participating in it.

"We're not going to tell you what to do," she said, adding that the center was encouraging people to be sure they understood the potential ramifications of participating in a boycott, especially skipping work or school.

"If we disagree on the how and when (of a boycott), we're united in the strategy of seeking comprehensive immigration reform," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. She said she wasn't even sure who was behind the calls for a boycott.

While plans publicized in some cities mentioned calls for a boycott, it was not clear where the idea originated.

In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony earlier in the week issued a statement asking people not to skip school or work, but instead to participate in a Day of the Worker celebration in Los Angeles. May 1 is the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker.

The cardinal also encouraged schools and workplaces to devote time to understanding "the dignity of work, the value of education and the important role immigrants play."

In San Diego, an after-work rally in Balboa Park May 1 had the support of the Catholic diocese's Office for Social Ministry. Linda Arreola told the San Diego Union Tribune daily newspaper that skipping work or school might cause a backlash.

"The message would be one that immigrants really don't want to be part of America and that what they are really doing is hurting the U.S., and that would be hurting the movement," the paper quoted Arreola as saying.

Meanwhile, smaller events focusing on immigration continued to be held around the country.

On April 23, events in San Francisco and Chicago featured Catholic religious leaders leading prayers and marches.

San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer led a group estimated at 10,000 that marched from Dolores Park to the Federal Building. He read a joint statement by interfaith leaders calling for "a just path to lawful permanent residence and citizenship."

He also said proposals in some of the pending legislation to criminalize being in the country illegally and to build a new wall along 700 miles of the Mexican border were "very shortsighted and even mean-spirited."

At an interfaith prayer vigil in Chicago the same day, religious leaders prayed to heal the nation's wounds over immigration issues. Father Claudio Diaz, director of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago's office of Hispanic ministry said, "We will see a miracle if we are together."

On April 19, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious joined the hundreds of religious organizations nationwide that have issued calls for immigration legislation that deals with a wide range of concerns.

"LCWR promotes legislation that includes family reunification, a path to earned legalization, worker protections and an effective border policy that is humane rather than punitive," the statement said.

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