Monday, April 17, 2006

Immigrant Rights News Reports:


Non-Hispanic immigrants wonder what reform means for them
Last Updated 6:33 am PDT Monday, April 17, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Hamid Khan stood out among the Hispanics he marched alongside at a recent immigration protest. When one demonstrator asked Khan where he was from and the reply was Pakistan, the man asked, "'Then what are you doing here?'"

Khan was surprised.

"I said, 'Look, there are non-Latino groups who are also suffering under these laws,'" said Khan, 49, a commercial pilot and director of an advocacy group called the South Asian Network.

Hispanics, the nation's largest immigrant group, are leading the movement to demand a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and defeat legislation that would criminalize them.

Khan's experience provides a glimpse into the ambiguous role non-Hispanic immigrants play in a public debate that has yet to fully include them.

While some Asian, European and Middle Eastern immigrants support calls for sweeping immigration reform, most have been absent from the widespread protests that have captured the nation's attention. The reasons are many. Some complain congressional debate overlooks the needs of their communities. Others fear a law granting amnesty would also bring stricter enforcement. And many non-Hispanic illegal immigrants are hesitant to join undocumented Hispanic immigrants, who have been emboldened by the size of the protests.

While Hispanics make up the majority of immigrants, there are millions of others from all over the world. Forty-eight percent of the 34 million foreign-born immigrants come from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and countries like Canada, with the rest coming from Latin America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, 78 percent come from Latin America, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The next largest undocumented population comes from Asia, with 13 percent.

All illegal immigrants could benefit from proposals in Congress that would give them a chance at citizenship. But many non-Hispanic immigrants say lawmakers should take into account people's reasons for coming to the country illegally.

"In the Latino community, people come here illegally for jobs," said H. Chang, a 23-year-old Korean college student who asked her full name not be used because her parents are living in Los Angeles illegally. "For us, a whole family comes here for a student, and many stay illegally."

So far, discussions on increasing visas have focused on guest worker programs for low-skilled laborers, not people like Chang's parents.

For Vietnamese immigrants, a central complaint is the wait time for relatives to be allowed to come to the United States, which can take 10 years, said Duc Nguyen, a 31-year-old Vietnamese health worker who lives in Orange. He said he doesn't see Congress focusing on that.

"Why are they (lawmakers) only doing a half reform?" asked Nguyen, who said he went to a few protests, but only to observe. Many non-Hispanic immigrants are simply weary of any new immigration law.

A bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, which some Hispanic advocacy groups called a good compromise because it included steps to citizenship for illegal immigrants, would also fortify the borders, expand immigration detention centers and speed up deportation proceedings.

That sent shivers through communities of Middle Eastern immigrants, who already feel scrutinized after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"That's part of the reason why our community hasn't rushed out to protest," said Sabiha Khan, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California. "They are afraid of what will happen to them with immigration reform."

Still, the council and numerous activist groups representing non-Hispanic immigrants have encouraged participation in the marches. They say it's a matter of immigrant solidarity - and of ensuring non-Hispanic voices are heard.

"If we just look at the Latino community coming out, we are missing the bigger picture," said Eun-Sook Lee, director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, an advocacy group that has helped plan Southern California demonstrations.

Hispanic groups also have been contacting other immigrant groups, and expect thousands to participate in the next national protest planned for May 1, said Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican-American Political Association.

As the rallies continue, more non-Hispanics are showing up. During nationwide rallies last Monday, dozens of Haitians, Filipinos, Indians and others participated in New York. In Los Angeles a Korean drum band lead about 7,000 protesters through the streets.

That hasn't convinced J. Park, a 17-year-old illegal immigrant from Korea, to start protesting. He fears authorities could learn about his immigration status if he protests. "I don't want that to be known," said Park, who asked his full name not be used. "Going back to Korea is not an option."
Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Santa Ana, Erin Texeira in New York and Dan Goodin in San Jose contributed to this report.


Maywood - small city, big debate
Mostly Latino L.A.-area town takes up the cause of illegal immigrants - and gets swept into national uproar.
By Peter Hecht -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 2:15 am PDT Monday, April 17, 2006

MAYWOOD - Until recently, this 1.1-square-mile city east of downtown Los Angeles was little known beyond its Mexican panaderías, or bakeries, and Salvadoran pupusería cafes or its shuttered 1940s chemical plant that is now a toxic cleanup site.

But Maywood is suddenly attracting national and even international attention. Its art deco City Hall, Catholic church and scant urban blocks teeming with Spanish-speaking residents are in the klieg lights of the intense debate over whether illegal immigrants should be treated as lawbreakers or granted amnesty or other civil rights protections.

It all started with an unlikely political revolt over traffic stops and alleged collusion benefiting a local tow truck company.

In November, a new City Council majority was swept into power by voters angered that Maywood police were stopping and seizing hundreds of cars whose unlicensed drivers turned out to be illegal immigrants. Residents, including the priest at Maywood's St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church, asserted that the city and police were targeting suspected illegals in collusion with a towing company that earned up to $1,500 a month in impound and storage fees.

City officials vehemently denied improper conduct and ethnic profiling of motorists - something they contend is impossible in a town that is more than 96 percent Latino. But in Maywood, where many families include both U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants, and where the official population of 29,000 residents is believed to be augmented by more than 10,000 uncounted, illegal residents, the backlash was furious.

The new political majority, including two new City Council members and a new mayor, promptly voted to disband the Police Department's traffic division.

In January, Maywood became one of California's first cities to pass a resolution protesting a House bill that sought to make illegal immigration a felony and deputize local police to enforce federal immigration law.

"This is a civil rights issue to us," said newly elected Councilman Felipe Aguirre, a former Head Start administrator who runs an immigrant community service center. "People speak of undocumented immigrants as if they are animals in a zoo. But they are part of the fabric of our community."

The city's actions lit up talk radio. Maywood was called a "sanctuary" or "safe haven" for illegal immigrants. Though its resolution on the House bill included no such language, Maywood came to symbolize polarizing extremes in America's immigration debate. Journalists from Los Angeles to London descended on the town.

"This is emblematic of a new permissiveness in that illegal immigrants are somehow seen as a protected class - even if it means suspending all the laws on the books," said Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "If this spreads beyond Maywood, it will become a form of surrender to people who come to this country illegally."

People such as Maria Perez, 33, who came illegally from Hidalgo, Mexico, five years ago, feel the doors of the city are now open to them. "Inside of Maywood, I feel comfortable," said Perez, who reflects the thorny status of many people in town. Her husband, who works in a local packing house, is a legal U.S. resident. Their U.S.-born children are citizens. "I am the only one who would have to go," said Perez, who has applied for citizenship.

Though its police traffic division is disbanded and Maywood - now along with Los Angeles, San Francisco and several other California cities - is on record against treating illegal immigrants as criminals, debate still rages in the tiny city.

"I didn't vote for 'sanctuaries.' I didn't vote for breaking the law," fumed City Councilman Sam Peña, who was stripped of the city's mayoral job when the new council majority was voted in. Though Peña sided with his new colleagues in opposing the House bill, he is upset by inferences that Maywood supports illegal immigration. Peña, who says the number of cars impounded in the city has dropped from 240 a month to 40 since the new council was sworn in, claims the traffic issue was whipped up solely for political gain. He said only 4 percent of drivers whose cars were seized were even Maywood residents. "People are still out there driving without licenses, and there is a clear message to our police that they are to disregard (enforcing) the law," Peña said.

At City Hall, in meetings conducted in English and Spanish, the civic divide is on display.

"You need to unite by the United States and remember that you are in the United States," shouted resident Enrique Curiel, a California National Guard member, slamming down three American flags in front of council members.

But another resident - Juan Ayala, a Los Angeles County public works employee - harangued the council in Spanish over police tactics "that harassed the entire town," forcing poor residents to lose their cars or pay exorbitant fees to get them back. "You have been picking on people who can't defend themselves," Ayala said. "Shame."

Police Chief Bruce Leflar said Maywood, a heavily trafficked town near the 710 and 5 freeways in Los Angeles County, set up traffic stops and a command post in 2000 under a $300,000 state grant to crack down on drunken driving. The program ended in 2003, but officers continued informal traffic stops.

Rafael Castro asserted that when officers pulled over his son's beat-up 1980 Chevy Caprice, they weren't looking for drunken drivers. He claims they were seeking illegal immigrants, who aren't allowed driver's licenses. Castro, 65, said he and his son, Edward, 37, are both U.S. citizens but that Edward didn't have his license with him as required by law. He said police impounded their car for 30 days, charging $200 in city fees, plus $1,000 in storage costs from a local company, Maywood Towing. The Castros told the tow company to keep the car. "They only want to make money. It's corruption to exploit the immigrants," Castro said.

While the tow company declined comment, Peña said Maywood's auto impound rate is similar to those of neighboring cities.

But the car seizures became a galvanizing issue at Maywood's St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church.

The church pastor, the Rev. David Velásquez, a priest from Mexico, said he was pulled over twice himself. He suspected they were looking for such things as rosary beads - popular with many Mexican nationals - hanging from rearview mirrors. In a recent Spanish-language sermon, Velásquez decried "persecution of the undocumented" and said "a piece of paper does not make someone better." Earlier, he openly urged parishioners who are citizens to vote in Maywood's election. Their votes boosted the anti-car impound slate, including Aguirre, new Councilman Sergio Calderon and new Mayor Thomas Martin.

Leflar says "Maywood can't solve the immigration problem." He said his 43-officer Police Department doesn't even ask if residents are legal or not, for fear of scaring people from coming forward to report crimes. But he said he was surprised by the political upheaval that led to the City Council disbanding his traffic unit, including one sergeant and three motorcycle officers.

"They felt it was the right thing to do for their constituents," Leflar said. "They're the boss. But I would rather have my traffic program."

About the writer:
The Bee's Peter Hecht can be reached at (916) 326-5539 or


Farmers Say They've Got Fruit but No Labor
In Washington state, migrants increasingly pass up apple orchards for better-paying jobs.
By Miguel Bustillo, Times Staff Writer = April 17, 2006

YAKIMA, Wash. — While much of the country frets about too many illegal immigrants, farmers in this famed apple-growing region east of the Cascade Range complain they can no longer find enough. During the last two years, Yakima-area apple growers were so short of the migrant field hands they rely on to prune and pick their prized crop that a few brought in workers from Thailand. Others said they never did find enough workers and watched in anguish as precious fruit was left dangling on trees.

This summer, with farmers expecting a bountiful apple crop, they also predict that the worker shortage will worsen, threatening a hand-harvesting industry valued at more than $1.5 billion in Washington state. In the last big-crop year, growers employed an estimated 42,300 seasonal apple workers, according to state officials.

"I hear people saying, 'We don't have enough workers now,' " said family apple farmer Larry Knudson. And April is a slow month, he added. "If that's now, what is it going to be like when we ratchet up our seasonal programs in June?"

The farmers' labor problems are at least partly due to the tightening of security along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. But they also illuminate a new reality: Illegal immigrants are increasingly shunning agricultural work in favor of better-paying opportunities in other bottom-rung occupations.

The employers who are hiring illegal immigrants away from farmers, notably in construction and manufacturing, also often pay poor wages for backbreaking tasks. But they offer steadier hours than seasonal farm work, which has served as the first job in America for countless newcomers over the last century.

"The trend line on labor supply — it's going down," said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League. "If a grower can have people that come into his or her ranch on their own dime, who show [citizenship] documents that appear to be legitimate, it's never going to get better than that. The alternative, guest-worker programs, is always going to be more expensive. But that's the only real alternative."

Citing field-hand shortages in communities such as Yakima, national agribusiness organizations are lobbying Congress for a dramatically expanded and simplified guest-worker program, arguing that constricting illegal immigration without ensuring an alternative supply of cheap labor would lead to economic ruin for many farmers.

Such a proposal, titled AgJobs, is part of the primary immigration bill the Senate is considering and has garnered bipartisan support among Western governors and members of Congress. Supporters say a simplified guest-worker program is crucial to guaranteeing a domestically grown food supply; without it, they say, many crops, including lettuce, apples and grapes, will no longer be cultivated in this country.

But some worker advocates as well as illegal immigration opponents question whether there is a true dearth of agricultural laborers, arguing that farmers would find ample help if they paid more.

Apple workers, like most fruit pickers, are typically paid by the amount they harvest instead of hourly. According to statistics compiled by Washington state, in 2004 agriculture workers averaged about $8,600 a year for about 810 hours of labor — the equivalent of about $10.40 an hour.

Although it is not clear how many apple pickers are in the country illegally — farmers say workers typically show valid-looking immigration documents — the U.S. government has estimated that about 70% of such seasonal farmworkers are illegal immigrants.

Some economists have questioned whether the federal government should be propping up labor-intensive farm operations that would have had to adapt long ago if not for low-cost illegal immigrant workers.

Philip L. Martin, a professor of agricultural economics at UC Davis, said that if the government succeeded in cutting off the influx of illegal immigrants, some farmers would require an expanded guest-worker program to stay in business. But for the program to be successful and not just create a form of indentured servitude, Martin said, it would have to compel the farmers to phase out foreign workers and find better ways to harvest their crops.

Martin notes that tomato farmers predicted doom when the federal government ended the bracero guest-worker program of 1942 to 1964, which addressed World War II labor shortages. But the tomato industry adapted, mechanizing its harvesting processes, and today produces roughly five times as many tomatoes with one-tenth the workers.

"The government is not going to hand [farmers] big capital losses, which is what would happen in a place like Yakima" if illegal immigration suddenly ended, Martin said. "Maybe machines could only shake loose 60% of the apples on a tree, less than what workers harvest," he added. "But a technological advance like that could still end up being more profitable if it cut labor costs."

The arrival of Thai workers in Washington state two years ago was at first regarded as a novelty by farmers accustomed to Latino field hands. It then spurred serious debate among farmers about the future of apple cultivation in the region, which faces competition from growers in China, Chile and New Zealand.

But the episode eventually became an example of the kind of problems that have historically plagued foreign labor programs. The California-based company bringing in the Thai workers, Global Horizons Inc., was accused of mistreating them. It was fined by the Department of Labor and lost its farm labor contractor license in Washington state.

Last week, the United Farm Workers announced an agreement with Global Horizons aimed at protecting foreign workers. The union, it appears, expects its numbers to grow in the near future.


Campus Lockdown Appalls Parents =April 17, 2006
Some students at an Inglewood elementary school were barred from using the restroom. By Hemmy So, Times Staff Writer

As students from neighboring secondary schools walked out of class recently to protest immigration legislation, one Inglewood elementary school imposed a lockdown so severe that some students were barred from using the restroom. Instead, they used buckets placed in classroom corners or behind teachers' desks.

Appalled by the school's action, Worthington Elementary School parents have complained to the school board and plan to attend another board meeting next week.

Principal Angie Marquez imposed the lockdown March 27 when nearly 40,000 middle and high school students across Southern California staged walkouts. But Marquez, who did not return telephone calls for comment, apparently misread the district handbook and ordered the most restrictive lockdown — one reserved for nuclear attacks.

Tim Brown, director of operations for the Inglewood Unified School District, confirmed that some students were forced to use the buckets but said the principal's order was an "honest mistake."
"When there's a nuclear attack, that's when buckets are used," Brown said. The principal "followed procedure. She made a decision to follow the handbook. She just misread it."

Brown said the school district planned to update its emergency preparedness instructions to better deal with situations such as student walkouts and give more explicit direction to principals and teachers during emergencies.

Several Worthington teachers declined to comment on the lockdown, which continued into the next morning. Cathy Stewart, president of the Inglewood Teachers Assn., also would not comment.

Like many parents, Julia Campos found out about the lockdown from her fourth-grade son, who told her he had urinated in a bucket in his classroom. She also discussed the situation with female classmates who walk home with him. "Many of them were crying because they felt embarrassed," she said. "One girl was afraid other kids would see her."

Parents and community activists asked the Inglewood school board at its April 5 meeting to explain the principal's decision and sought assurances that administrators wouldn't repeat the March lockdown.

"There was nothing to be worried about," activist Diane Sambrano said in an interview. "There was no violence at the protests, so this was based on what? It was unsanitary, unnecessary and absolutely unacceptable."

Although her second-grade daughter did not use a classroom bucket, Zoila Juarez found the lockdown conditions appalling. Before the school board meeting, she stood outside the Worthington school gates passing out bilingual fliers that called the situation "disgusting" and "unsanitary," and encouraged parents to air their concerns before the board.

Only a handful of parents were at the meeting, but that hasn't stopped Juarez from trying to organize another group of parents to revisit the lockdown issue at the April 26 meeting to demand a full explanation for Marquez's decision.

Juarez dismissed a letter sent by Inglewood Supt. Pamela Short-Powell two days after the lockdown as having little substance or explanation for how the principal carried it out.

In that letter, Short-Powell rejected reports that children were "denied the opportunity to relieve themselves." "Students were escorted to designated areas on campus at specific times to use restroom facilities," the superintendent wrote. "In rare instances, the emergency preparedness toiletry provisions were used."

Several students said that classmates were allowed to use regular restroom facilities, often escorted by a teacher.

Miguel Arroyo, 12, said that a school monitor would come by his classroom and walk children to the restroom.

"The principal told us we had to use the bucket for the toilet because something bad was happening outside, but our teacher said no," said Esmerelda Lopez, a fourth-grader. "And at recess, we went to the bathroom."

School board member Johnny J. Young defended the principal's decision, though he said that having children go to the bathroom in buckets was an extreme, one-time situation.

Young said that "a large percentage" of parents were satisfied with the principal's decision and expressed those sentiments during the school board meeting. "They'd prefer to have students safe than stand in harm's way," he said.

Worthington Elementary School is seven blocks from Morningside High School, where fewer than 100 teenagers participated in the walkout. Administrators said they feared that if elementary school children were outside or in the open park behind the school, they would be swept into the crowd of protesters.

But angry parents and activists rejected that explanation, pointing out that schools with adjoining campuses to Morningside High, such as Clyde Woodworth Elementary and Monroe Middle School, did not implement strict daylong lockdowns. Woodworth elementary was under lockdown for less than an hour, and Monroe initiated a lower-level "alert lockdown," in which staff kept watch over school gates.

"Through all my years in school, we never went through anything like this," said Davon Evans, whose daughter is a first-grader. "They had their privacy taken away from them. That's not right."


Immigrant Supporters to Boycott on May 1 = April 14, 2006

NEW YORK — U.S. immigrant rights advocates called Thursday for a nationwide boycott of work, school and commerce on May 1, seeking to capitalize on the momentum of recent mass demonstrations across the country.

"I don't think we will crumble the economy of the United States on May 1, but we will make a dent," said New York City Councilman Charles Barron, among those supporting the initiative that was announced on the steps of City Hall.

The coalition of immigration rights groups aims to stop a proposed U.S. law that would make residing in the United States without papers a felony and require building a tall fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Opposition to that bill — HR4437, sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) — has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets of U.S. cities in recent weeks.

The groups announcing the boycott in New York said they had had the backing of the so-called March 25 Coalition that amassed a huge crowd in Los Angeles. They are calling on immigrant workers, elected officials, labor unions and churches to "take back" May Day, a public holiday in much of the world but not in the United States, where the international labor day has its origins.

Organizers declined to predict how many people would take part, but they aim to demonstrate how the United States depends on cheap labor and to generate more concern for the well-being of America's legal and illegal immigrants.

"We are not going to work. We are not going to buy anything," said Omar Henriquez, head of one New York pro-immigrant group. "They try to demonize us by calling us illegal aliens, but we contribute more to the economy than the miserable salaries that we earn."


Immigrant Groups Split on Boycott = Friday, April 14, 2006; Page A03
Walkouts May Do More Harm Than Good, Some Say
By Darryl Fears and N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writers

The coalition of grass-roots organizations that staged huge rallies on behalf of illegal immigrants in recent weeks is torn over an ambitious next step, a massive job and economic boycott that some are calling "A Day Without Immigrants."

Across the country, some groups have expressed enthusiasm for a May 1 action that they hope would paralyze restaurants, hotels, meat-packing plants and construction sites. But others have questioned the strategic value of such a move so soon after the wave of demonstrations, particularly as it would require many illegal immigrants to risk their jobs by skipping yet another workday. Some immigrant rights leaders say marches, such as the one on the National Mall on Monday, were a first step. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

Skeptics have another pressing concern -- that a prominent antiwar group may be playing a leading role in the boycott, linking its cause with the immigrant rights campaign to promote its own agenda.

The dispute is a symptom of the decentralized nature of the immigrant rights movement, where organizers have struggled to catch up to and harness ideas that bubble up from a vast network of local groups, rather than come down from one primary leader or committee. The disagreements also highlight the challenge of fashioning the mobilization of Latinos into a lasting movement.

"You can only march for so long to make your point," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, national coordinator for Latino Movement USA, an early proponent of the boycott. He said organizers need to keep the pressure on Congress to reject a House immigration bill that would make it a felony to be in the country illegally or to assist an illegal immigrant.

"You have to think of other creative ways to make it clear to Congress and the Bush administration that we expect them to behave responsibly," Gutierrez said. Organizers chose May 1, he said, because of "its special symbolism" as an international workers' day.

In Los Angeles, organizers were planning the boycott even before the March 25 rally there that produced half a million people. They want to erect a stage downtown on May 1 and invite movie stars, said Mike Garcia, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1877.

In Chicago, "everyone in the Spanish media now is talking about a May Day," said Artemio Arreola, a member of the Mexican Federation, a driving force behind a march last month that included about 300,000 people.

And in Dallas, where between 350,000 and 500,000 turned out for a demonstration on Sunday, Jesse Diaz, president of the local League of United Latin American Citizens, predicted that the boycott idea "is going to take off like wildfire. There's so much emotion in the air. You're going to see something like you've never seen in the United States."

But that optimism is not shared in Washington, where 100,000 to 300,000 people filled the Mall on Monday. Many organizers of that demonstration expressed serious doubts about the boycott.

"This is something we need to take very seriously, and consider all the repercussions of not doing it right or of creating a backlash," said Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition and chairman of the local Service Employees International Union.

"It's premature to do the boycott May 1, given that the Senate doesn't get back in session until the week of the April 23," added Contreras, who said he will recommend that his organization reject the plan. "We want to see what comes out of the Senate and what compromises [with the House] emerge before we do that."

Those concerns were echoed by organizers in Philadelphia and Des Moines. "We are not going to cause division amongst the group," said Ricardo Diaz, who helped organize two marches in Philadelphia. "We are not yet committed to the May 1 boycott."

Diaz, Contreras and other leaders were alarmed that the antiwar organization Act Now to Stop War and End Racism co-sponsored an April 4 news conference in the District to announce the boycott, even before the April 10 events. The group has been criticized by conservatives as being affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party and supporting the Palestinian uprising against Israel.

"Groups . . . that have done nothing on immigration have no reason to stick their nose where it doesn't belong," Contreras said. "They have no business saying, 'Let's do a strike' when it will create a humongous burden on immigrant groups. They need to stay in their box."

Brian Becker, national coordinator of the antiwar organization, said his group has long supported immigrant rights and is not trying to co-opt the May 1 action. "We are just part of the coalition; we are not spearheading it at all," he said. "Whatever the immigrant rights community calls for is what we support."

In the coming days, representatives of hundreds of groups across the nation will be meeting to decide whether to support the boycott. Whatever happens at those gatherings, supporters of the action said, the idea has already taken hold.

"Word has started getting out through the Listservs on the Internet, through mass media," Gutierrez said. "The buzz has gone national. This idea has taken a life of its own, and although there will be detractors for a whole variety of reasons, May 1 will happen."

Correction to This Article:
An April 14 article incorrectly described the group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. ANSWER has long been affiliated with the Workers World Party, not the Socialist Workers Party.

Echo: Out from the shadows =Originally published on April 11, 2006
By Juan Gonzalez, Daily News columnist / Democracy Now!

Jose Chicas had longed for this moment ever since 1982, when as a young man he fled the civil war in his native El Salvador and crossed illegally into California.
Over all those years of pickup construction jobs for low wages, Chicas kept dreaming that all hardworking immigrants like himself would one day step out of the shadows, cast off their fears of being deported and finally demand respect.

Yesterday afternoon, Chicas stood proudly on the back of a pickup truck watching his dream come true in the brilliant spring sunshine of lower Manhattan.

Around him were hundreds of fellow members from Local 79 of the Laborers' International Union, all signing in with Chicas for their union's contingent at the big immigrant rights rally at City Hall. He carefully distributed the union's bright orange T-shirts to each of them.

By 5 p.m., the throngs from the big City Hall rally stretched north along Broadway for more than 15 blocks, as police seemed surprised by the size of the turnout.

The torrent of chanting faces and flags stretched past Canal St., paralyzing rush-hour traffic in every direction.

The same scene was repeated all across America, as hundreds of thousands of janitors, hotel workers, gardeners, nannies and unskilled factory hands streamed into the streets of more than 100 cities.

Never - not even at the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s - has there been such an outpouring of our nation's huddled masses as during the past few weeks over this immigration debate.

Don't buy for a moment the nonsense that these protests don't matter, that all these marchers are illegal immigrants who can't vote so the politicians can simply ignore them.

When black people shook the South with their protests, they couldn't vote, either.

As for Chicas, it took him 15 years, but he finally obtained a green card in 1997. Now a staff organizer with Local 79, the union of demolition workers, he has become a fervent advocate for legalization of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

And then there is Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (D-Washington Heights). Espaillat came to this country several decades ago, overstayed his visa and was once an illegal immigrant himself.

Today he is one of the most respected Dominican leaders in this town and helped organize a half-dozen separate contingents from northern Manhattan for yesterday's march.

Then there is Marienela Jordan, who came to New York with her family from the Dominican Republic in 1979, a few weeks after Hurricane David.

"The storm devastated the economy, and there was no work," Jordan told me yesterday. She, too, overstayed her visa and became undocumented for a time. Today, she is not only a citizen but heads the Office of Latino Affairs for Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

And so it is with so many legal residents and even American citizens. Having once been branded "illegal" themselves, they are furious at how some Washington lawmakers are eager to turn desperate workers into felons and tear apart whole families in the process.

Backers of an immigration crackdown will tell you there's a huge chasm between legal and illegal immigrants.

Our Native Americans would disagree. They still say all of us were illegal once. The descendants of the original Mexican settlers of Texas and California swear Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and all their progeny should never have been allowed to cross the border.

At least Chicas and the latest 11 million didn't come here with guns, determined to impose their will. They came with hands outstretched and eager to work for whatever someone would pay.

Now that they've stepped out of the shadows, all they want is a little respect from the country they love.


Echo= From Latinos' Rally, Hopes for a Movement
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 9, 2006; A01

On the eve of demonstrations by Latinos in dozens of cities across the country, protest organizers said they would strive to transform momentum over the immigration controversy into a lasting civil rights movement that unifies the nation's largest minority population.

They face the challenge of appealing to a population that is divided economically, racially and by national origin, a fact that has perplexed marketing and political strategists alike. And some experts say they fear that forming a political coalition around issues more broad-based than immigration might prove daunting.

The mobilization, which already has drawn hundreds of thousands of people this year to immigration protests in major cities, has yet to produce the visible leadership characteristic of civil rights movements.

Demonstrations are planned for more than 60 cities tomorrow, and organizers expect that as many as 180,000 people will converge on the Mall, enhanced by frustration over the congressional impasse last week on immigration legislation.

"Our challenge is to transform this massive movement of people in the streets into a massive movement of people to the polls," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, where a demonstration last month drew more than 500,000 people. "Ultimately in a democracy, your influence depends on putting people in power to represent your interests."

If political power comes to a population estimated to number more than 40 million people -- hailing from more than 20 countries -- it will come gradually.

Only 40 percent of U.S. Latinos are eligible to vote, according to a recent study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California, and fewer than half vote regularly. One-third of Latinos are too young to vote. And an estimated 27 percent are adults but noncitizens or illegal immigrants.

Although immigrants from all countries would be affected by changes in the law, a wave of Latino protest coalesced after the House passed legislation that would make illegal immigration a felony and penalize those who employed such immigrants. Apparent agreement on a Senate compromise that would have opened a path to citizenship for millions in the country illegally collapsed Friday under the weight of election-year politics.

"A community that had essentially been trying to remain invisible suddenly concluded that their invisibility was only making them more vulnerable," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which advocates expanding immigrant rights.

But Sharry said activism could be undermined if legislation similar to the Senate proposal ever finds its way into law.

"I suspect a lot people will start busying themselves with getting on the path to legal permanent residence, and that could take the political momentum out of [the movement]," Sharry said.

This cycle of success followed by complacency has played out during several previous waves of Latino activism -- most recently in California during the 1990s. In 1994, when voters there adopted Proposition 187, denying some public benefits to illegal immigrants, many Latinos perceived the move as a personal attack by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who had advocated the measure. Mass demonstrations were followed by a surge in voter registration and political activism by Latinos.

Two successive Democratic candidates were swept into the governor's mansion, and the state became a reliable voter for Democratic presidential candidates.

Once the sense of crisis abated, fewer California Latinos turned out to vote. In the 2002 general election, for example, Latinos represented 17 percent of registered voters but 10 percent of those who voted.

Organizers of the demonstrations set for tomorrow said they plan to counter the pattern by convening a national conference in June, probably in Milwaukee, to craft an agenda that carries the movement beyond a single legislative goal.

"We're going to be talking about what a pro-immigration platform looks like and how to maintain it," said Kimberly Propeack, advocacy director for CASA of Maryland, an immigrant rights group.

The effort to mold an issue into a movement might be hampered by the absence of a nationally recognized leader to fulfill the galvanizing role that Martin Luther King Jr. played for the African American civil rights movement, or that Mexican American labor activist Cesar Chavez played for West Coast farm workers.

The lack of such a figure is at least partly due to the nature of the organizations underlying the current mobilization.

Although many leaders of the civil rights movement emerged from historically black colleges or Protestant churches that fostered the rise of a select group of orators, the recent demonstrations have been the work of a diverse, dispersed, grass-roots network of community service organizations, social clubs, unions and Spanish-language media outlets. The Washington demonstration alone is being coordinated by more than 60 such groups.

"Without a Dr. King-like figure, we lack the capacity to create that personal connection, not just within our own community but with folks on the outside," said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of policy for National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group. "Someone with that kind of visibility is really useful in terms of educating people."

Although there is no identifiable leader to reconcile the inevitable fractures that have emerged as so many groups try to harmonize their activities, Salas said the decentralized nature of the movement also has an advantage.

"There's no one leader who could disappear and affect the movement," she said. "Instead, you have all these local communities with their own independent local leaders."

And many Latino leaders say that whatever the fate of their movement in the short run, their success over the long term is virtually guaranteed by the millions of U.S.-born Latinos who will be turning 18 over the next decade.

The most lasting impact of the demonstrations might be the passion it ignites among the young people who participate, said Antonio Gonzalez, executive director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which is dedicated to increasing Latino political involvement.

"The way you get youth to vote is to have a sort of revolution, an evil enemy to fight," he said. "That has just been handed to us by [the Republicans]. We ought to send them a thank-you letter."

Relevant Links=
Immigrant Solidarity Network

May 1st, 2006 = A Call to Action

Border01 · US-Mexico Border Actions

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