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Immigrant Rights Conference Plans for May Day Demonstrations

by Brad Sigal |
February 22, 2007
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Los Angeles, CA - Immigrant rights activists from around the U.S. came together here at a conference, Feb. 3-4, to plan for the Great American Boycott II for immigrant rights on May 1.

In the face of ongoing legislative attacks against immigrants and increasing raids and deportations going on around the country, the May 1 mobilizations will demand immediate legalization for all undocumented workers, an end to the raids, no to a ‘temporary guest worker’ program and opposition to militarization of the border.

The conference was hosted by L.A.’s March 25 Coalition, which led the mobilization of over a million people in Los Angeles on May 1, 2006 to demand legalization for all undocumented immigrants. The conference was also endorsed by New York’s May 1 Coalition and Chicago’s Centro Sin Fronteras. Immigrant rights activists came from Seattle, Sonoma County, California, Las Vegas, New Mexico, Providence, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Raleigh and other cities. While the majority of participants were Latinos there were also important African American, Filipino, and Muslim organizations that participated and pledged their support for this year’s mobilization. Some important union activists also participated.

Conference participants discussed and analyzed the attacks on immigrants and the state of the immigrant rights movement. Participants voted on demands, points of unity, a timeline and a coordinating group to plan nationally for May 1.

Last March and April, millions of Latino immigrant workers marched in the streets of cities across the U.S. in unprecedented mass mobilizations. The protests responded to legislative attacks on immigrants with the demand for legalization and full equality for all undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

That wave of protests culminated in the May 1, 2006 Great American Boycott, when millions of immigrants refused to work or to buy anything. Hundreds of large factories and workplaces and entire areas of cities where Latinos are concentrated were effectively shut down. These were among the largest mass workers’ mobilizations in U.S. history. The boycott also spread to Mexico and Latin America, where May 1 is already celebrated as International Workers Day.

Last year’s mass mobilizations succeed in defeating the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill (H.R. 4437), which was an extreme attack on all undocumented immigrants and their communities. But the attack on immigrants was not over. At the end of last year, Congress passed bills to further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border - to build a 700-mile border wall and to send thousands of new military troops to the border. These measures target Mexican and other Latin American workers who are coming to the U.S. looking for jobs and survival, fleeing economic ruin caused by U.S.-imposed ‘free trade agreements’ and countries devastated by U.S.-sponsored wars.

This year, President Bush and Democrats in Congress support immigration proposals that would tear apart immigrant communities. The Bush/Democrat proposal from last year would divide undocumented workers into three categories. One group of millions of immigrants would be subject to immediate roundup and deportation. Millions more would be forced to involuntarily return to their home countries with a remote possibility to being able to come back to the U.S. at some point. Under the Bush/Democrat plan only a small minority of undocumented immigrant workers who are in the U.S. now would be able to stay in the U.S. and they would be forced into temporary guest worker programs.

Guest worker programs are a gift to big business and a nightmare for workers. They would give employers almost total control over ‘their’ immigrant workers, forcing workers to stay in jobs with terrible working conditions and low pay without the right to organize to improve their conditions. When such programs, like the Bracero Program, existed on a large scale in the past workers who tried to organize to change bad working conditions and low pay were simply sent back to Mexico. Unions were unable to organize any workers in industries where guest workers were employed. Guest worker programs are not just an attack on immigrant workers. They are also an attack on unions and on the working class as a whole.

The only thing that can stop the looming threat of an immigration bill that calls for deportation of millions of immigrant workers is another round of mass immigrant rights protests this spring demanding immediate legalization for all. Some in the immigrant rights movement think it makes sense to wait and see if the Democrats will pass a good immigration reform bill before mobilizing. But the Democrats have not advocated legalization and full equality for all immigrant workers. They have not opposed a guest worker program. They have not opposed militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. They have not supported a moratorium on deportations.

To win a moratorium on immigration raids and deportations and to win legalization and full equality for all workers, there needs to be another round of mass mobilizations of immigrant workers and their allies. The Los Angeles conference that started planning for the Great American Boycott II on May 1, 2007 is an important step in building for those mass mobilizations around the country.