Unions Lead Mass Protests for Immigrants' Rights


4-09-06, 9:13 am

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Unionists and their allies expected to lead mass protests in more than 65 cities nationwide for immigrants’ rights – including more than 100,000 jamming the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol – on April 10. The “National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice” culminates weeks of demonstrations and rallies from Los Angeles to Chicago, from New York to San Antonio, and every place in between. It came after senators reached what AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney called “a downright appalling” compromise on immigration. The protests were to show lawmakers, and especially Congress’ Republican majority, there is a mass movement for setting the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers on the path to “green cards” and permanent, legal U.S. residency. That would bring them out of the economic shadows, where they could be, among other things, protected by U.S. labor laws, not exploited by venal firms.

And the protesters were also determined to show lawmakers that they would be held accountable at the polls this fall if they did not reject the harsh enforcement-only pro-deportation immigration bill, H.R. 4437, the GOP-run House passed last December. The Senate is scheduled to vote on its compromise after the Passover-Easter recess.

The House bill “violates our most basic American values,” said Abdul Kamus, an UNITE HERE organizer who helped assemble the D.C. march. “It would rip families apart and condemn religious and non-profit service providers, while failing to make us safer as a nation,” he added.

Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win oppose the harsh H.R. 4437. They also oppose the House bill’s Senate counterpart, pushed by Majority Leader William Frist (R-Tenn.). Frist is retiring this year to run for president in 2008 and is using immigration to appeal to the Radical Right. CTW Chair Anna Burger calls those two bills “evil.” The Senate compromise, which Frist endorsed, sends 2.8 million of the workers back.
The compromise “tears at the heart of true reform and will drive millions of hard-working immigrants further into the shadows of American society, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation,” Sweeney declared. “By dividing immigrants already here into three different classifications, the…proposal will create an undemocratic, three-tiered society that degrades and marginalizes millions of immigrant families in our communities while driving down wage and benefits standards for everyone.”

“We need an immigration policy that provides a real path to citizenship for all workers already here, paying taxes and contributing to their communities,” he added.

The marches Monday “build on the new immigrant movement which has brought together a broad coalition of unlikely allies including clergy, union members, business leaders, students and grassroots activists,” said organizers of the D.C. demonstration.

“In solidarity, these people have marched in cities across America in opposition to wrongheaded legislation that assumes that building higher fences, initiating mass deportations and criminalizing people who assist the undocumented will solve our immigration crisis,” they added. Other rallies on Monday included:

* At least 10,000 Steel Workers, Notre Dame students and civil rights activists at a rally in the Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend, Ind., coordinated by the area’s only Latino radio station.

* The second rally in two weeks in the Twin Cities, this one a two-day event in St. Paul. It began with an interfaith march on Palm Sunday, April 9 and continued with a lobby day at the state capitol on April 10. The Alliance for Fair Federal Immigration Reform of Minnesota has a state target as well as a national one: GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to local police to be immigration agents.

* Los Angeles established an evening “Seven Stations of the Cross for Immigrant Communities” procession, organizer Alvaro Huerta of CHIRLA said. Each station featured an immigrant speaker, including a rabbi who survived the Nazi Holocaust, and a Pakistani Imam.

Los Angeles is also notable because Cardinal Roger Mahony, an outspoken backer of immigrant rights during his 35 years in the priesthood, openly says his diocese defy H.R. 4437’s ban on aiding immigrants, should that harsh bill become law.

The House bill not only criminalizes the undocumented workers themselves, but it also declares that anyone who helps them in any way – including Catholic relief workers and, Burger says, union organizers – are felons, too.

* An afternoon march from Boston Common to Copley Plaza, led by contingents of Irish, Russian, Brazilian, Chinese, Somali, and Ethiopian immigrants.

* More than 10,000 Haitian and Central American immigrants marching through the small Florida farming community of Homestead. Another 12 rallies will occur in the Sunshine State, the American Friends Service Committee said.

From International Labor Communications Association