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Chicago Convention Unites National Immigrant Rights Movement

Labor Day Marches and Sept. 30 National Day of Action Planned
by Brad Sigal |
August 17, 2006
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Hillside, IL – Over 750 immigrant rights activists met here on August 11-13 at a historic national convention. This was the largest and most important meeting of the new immigrant rights movement to date. The attendees were largely Mexican-American, with Central and South Americans and other nationalities too. The convention brought together leaders of the wave of "mega-marches" from all over the country. Those marches brought millions of immigrant workers into the streets to defeat the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill (HR 4437) and to demand legalization and full equality for undocumented immigrants. According to Los Angeles-based immigrant rights and trade union activist Carlos Montes, "The energy, unity and diversity of the convention was motivating and a call to action for immigrant rights."

Convention participants included leaders of the Los Angeles march of over 1 million people, and leaders of the mass mobilizations from Chicago, New York, Arizona, Georgia, San Francisco, Utah, Minnesota, Vermont, North Carolina, and many more places in between. The protest wave shook the United States from March 10 through May 1st with some of the largest political marches in U.S. history.

This convention was organized by the Chicago-based March 10th Movement, which organized the first mega-march of 200,000 people. The goals of the convention included consolidating the movement nationally and planning for the next mobilizations. According to José Artemio Arreola, a leader of the March 10th Movement and a key convention organizer, "The convention was definitely a success. We were only expecting about 200 people and in total 761 people registered. We had over 500 more people than we had expected. There were many important points of agreement among the participants."

The convention formed a national network, the National Alliance for Immigrant Rights (NAIR). Students formed a student network and the convention united around mobilizing for September 4 Labor Day marches. Most significantly, a call for a National Day of Action on September 30th targets Congress before it adjourns on October 6. The Day of Action opposes all anti-immigrant legislation and continues to demand legalization for all. The Convention participants hope this gives direction to the demands of the masses of immigrants.

Republican legislators are holding immigrant-bashing public hearings around the U.S. this summer, to build support for passing "enforcement-only" legislation at the end of the session. Their legislation would further militarize the border and dramatically increase deportations.

According to Carlos Montes, who is on the national leadership body of the newly-formed organization, "September 30 is the last chance we have [during this session] of pressuring Congress to pass real immigration reform, so the convention united behind a national day of action on September 30." The day of action will be important to try to stave off a possible anti-immigrant attack at the end of the legislative session.

José Artemio Arreola agreed on the importance of the new organization and the upcoming actions: "We created the new National Alliance for Immigrant Rights and now we'll continue to work with that structure. We united on two national actions – the Labor Day mobilizations, and a September 30th day of action because we don't want Congress to vote for something repressive. It's better if they don't pass anything. We are demanding legalization for all and saying no to criminalization. We are demanding a moratorium on deportations."

The convention called for an immediate moratorium on immigration raids and deportations, such as the deportation of Elvira Arellano from Chicago, and of 25 immigrants arrested in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The convention made everyone more aware of the serious attacks that are happening at the state and local level in places like Arizona and Georgia, where severe anti-immigrant laws have passed. The convention also agreed to join a national boycott against Kimberly Clarke, a company in which Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has large investments.

On Saturday night at the convention, Fight Back! Newspaper hosted an event which was attended by over 100 activists. This event emphasized the importance of building the alliance between the labor movement and the immigrant rights movement, while also drawing connections to the anti-war movement. Carlos Montes, José Artemio Arreola, Tony Caldera and Anh Pham spoke at the Fight Back! gathering. Montes was a cofounder of the Brown Berets in the 1960s and is a long-time immigrant rights and union leader in Los Angeles. José Artemio Arreola is a trade union activist and a leader in Chicago's March 10th Movement. Caldera is a rank and file Teamster and a leader in the 743 New Leadership Slate, which is fighting to oust the corrupt leadership of Chicago's Teamsters Local 743. Anh Pham is a Vietnamese immigrant and anti-war activist in Minnesota who connected her experience emigrating with her family from Vietnam following the defeat of the U.S. there, to her support for the immigrant rights movement.

The immigrant rights movement has quickly become a powerful force of oppressed nationalities within the U.S. fighting for full equality--including legalization, the equality of languages, and against discrimination and criminalization of immigrants. The convention helped consolidate the movement politically and organizationally.

William Martinez, a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition who attended the convention said, "I thought the convention was excellent, with people from so many states that came together. You could see the importance that each state has, and more importantly to understand the main point, which is that we are all struggling for one cause, which is legalization for all. There are people involved who have struggled for many years and there are also young people involved. The struggle for immigrant rights is something that is uniting people to bring about change in this country."