Monday, May 01, 2006

A Day Without Immigrants Mobilizes Millions

Deport racism
Originally uploaded by The Little Turtle.
PANW Editor's Note: Today in Detroit several thousands people came out to rally and march in support of justice for the immigrant community in the United States. The day began with a gathering at Clark Park located in Southwest Detroit, the heart of the Latino neighborhood in the city. Other immigrant communities and oppressed national groups came out to the demonstration from the Middle-Eastern, African, Asian and Muslim sectors of the population.

This was second mass rally and march held in Detroit since March 27 when tens of thousands came out to protest against the House passage of HR 4437, a bill that would have criminalized over ten million people living the country. At today's demonstration progressive organizations outside the Latino community were invited to speak. These groups expressed solidarity with the immigrant rights struggle and called for greater cooperation between various immigrant and people of color communities.

Some of the organizers who spoke at Clark Park today included Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire and member of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), Ron Scott, spokesperson for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, Isis Sushiela and Violetta Donawa of the Wayne Stae University student chapter of MECAWI, Hafeez Muhammad of the Council of Islamic Organizations as well as other activists.

The crowd listened to speeches and Latin music from a powerful public address system. Later there was a march from Clark Park to St. Anne's Catholic Church. The Latino community is growing at a rapid rate in the city of Detroit. Officially the Latino population represents 5% of the residents in the city.

Below are two articles from the mainstream press reporting on events in Detroit and around the country today.

Immigrant rights supporters rally in Detroit

Some businesses close, others stay open

May 1, 2006

Immigrants across metro Detroit took off from work, school, and closed down some businesses as part of a nationwide protest to demonstrate their political power.

In Detroit, more than a thousand immigrants and supporters demonstrated in two rallies. The first, held at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, drew, according to organizers, more than 200 protestors, who listened to Catholic leaders, union officials and others speak about the importance of immigrants to America’s economy. It was sponsored by the Detroit-based coalition group, MOSES, Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength.

Speakers included religious leaders, union officials and activists.

“We can not criminalize people said Edith Castillo, executive director for LA SED – Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, based in Detroit. “This country’s economic infrastructure would collapse’’ if there were no immigrants.

That rally was followed by a larger rally at Clark Park in southwest Detroit, which appeared to draw about 1,000, organizers say. Many waved the flags of America, Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, as they listened to speakers criticize Congressional legislation that would criminalize support of undocumented immigrants.

“We’re here in solidarity with them,’’ said Jose Riojas, 67, of Detroit, at the rally in Clark Park. “They’re taxpayers, too.”

Some of the protesters marched to nearby Clark Park for a rally scheduled to begin at noon.

Manny Mejia, 65, of Detroit, formerly of Arizona is retired from the military. He held a sign that read: “I’m from northern occupied Mexico… Arizona. ‘’

“For the longest time, the U.S. has used illegals for working,’’ he said. “When the economy goes south, we are no longer wanted. ‘’

Linda Karos, 58, of Sterling Heights, said: “I’m supporting my parents who came here as immigrants’’ from Greece.Some organizers had called for an economic boycott on Monday, but others did not.

Along Vernor Highway, the main commercial strip for Latino-owned businesses in southwest Detroit, most of the shops were closed, said Fred Feliciano, president of the Hispanic Business Alliance. But a few remained open.

At Wolverine Packing Co, in Detroit which employs many immigrant workers, it was business as usual, said manager Jay Bonahoom. Workers showed up for their usual shifts. After an immigration rally March 28, 21 workers who attended the rally were fired. Since then at least 16 have been rehired.

May 1, 2006

Immigrants Stage Protests Across U.S.

New York Times

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters gathered in cities around the country today in demonstrations and an economic boycott intended to show the impact the workers have on the nation's economy as Congress grapples with new immigration legislation.

On what they dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants," organizers had urged immigrants not to show up for work and not to make any purchases today. But while the demonstrations promised to be some of the biggest in a series of marches during the last two months, not everyone agreed that the show of unity should include walking off the job, forsaking purchases or staying out of school.

In Chicago, Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, one of groups that is organizing a rally there, said none of the leaders involved in planning today's rally called for a boycott.

"It's a powerful weapon which needs to be used in an aimed, focused and strategic way," he said.

The impact of the call for a boycott was difficult to measure this afternoon. Some businesses in New York and Los Angeles that are run by immigrants or that cater largely to immigrants were closed, but many others remained open. Casino industry representatives in Las Vegas said few workers stayed out, and most of them had asked for the time off earlier. Chamber of Commerce officials in Washington and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs said they knew of no disruptions.

But while it was still too early to gauge the economic effect, it was clear that the marches were attracting huge numbers of workers and students. The police in Chicago said the crowd at the rally had exceeded 400,000 by late afternoon.

"We deserve what we're asking for," said Francisco Bear, 60, one of the demonstrators in Chicago, who came to this country in 1968 and became a citizen and now owns a truck leasing business. "We love America and we're workers."

In Los Angeles, police were preparing for 500,000 demonstrators at two rallies, but hours before they began, downtown streets were already clogged, inaccessible to vehicular traffic.

Some advocates in Los Angeles have pressed for a full boycott, while other leaders there, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the archbishop, have urged a milder approach.

And as bold as the immigrants have become rallies of the last few weeks, the opposition to illegal immigration has also become more vocal. However, though scattered counterprotests were reported today, most of the opposition to the demonstrations of the last several weeks has been voiced over talk radio and the Internet, instead of on the streets.

Rick Bieseda, co-founder of the Chicago Minuteman Project, said the group was not planning any counter protests in response to today's rally but was encouraging people to "shop until they drop" at American-owned stores today. The group will have a few representatives at the rally to record what happens, but he said they are not planning to demonstrate. "What's the sense of protesting? I mean, we think the whole thing is ridiculous. These people sneaked into our country," Mr. Bieseda said.

United States Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, told the crowd in Chicago that many people in the United States do not agree that immigrants deserve many rights.

"There is fear out there," he said.
"There are those who want to turn back the clock. We have to reach out to those folks and explain to them that our future will be better together than divided."

In Denver, as immigrants marched down the streets of downtown chanting
"U.S.A.," some of them carrying Mexican flags, an angry man on the side of the road chanted back as loudly as he could, "You must go." Another man in a business suit held a sign saying, "Amnesty Encourages More Illegals. Love us or Leave us," but was silent as the crowd passed.

One of the marchers, Maritza Escobar, 29, from El Salvador, said she moved to the United States eight years ago and became a citizen. She said she has participated in all of the immigrant rallies and marches in Denver in the last few weeks, because too many employers exploit undocumented workers.

"I want the employers to treat our people better — pay them better, support them," she said. "Most of the people don't know they have rights, vacation pay or sick time and that's because employers are taking advantage of them."

All over the country, in anticipation of the rallies, employers had met with workers, posted letters on bulletin boards and in employee lunchrooms, and braced for the day ahead. Other employers urged their employees to come to work today despite calls for an economic boycott, and still others announced that they would let workers out early to participate in events, or, unsure of just what today would bring, would close for the day.

In Las Vegas, efforts by operators of the casino industry to urge their employees to channel their concerns about immigration into carefully planned and approved alternatives to walking off the job — signing petitions available at work —seemed to pay off. A morning rally organized by boycott supporters was more sparsely attend than expected, with just 500 people gathering at a park for speeches before a five-mile, two-hour march that took walkers to the northern, less opulent and famous end of Las Vegas Boulevard, or the Strip. Other rallies were planned for later in the day.

"There should be more people here," said a disappointed homemaker, Veronica Cardona, 31, who pulled her four children out of school as well and attended the rally with them, her husband, her 14-year-old sister and 16-year-old niece.

Her husband took a day off without pay from his construction job. "This is an education for my children in standing up for something they believe in," she said. "They are good students. This is more important than school today."

As the demonstration went by, Carol Desmond, 74, and Jackie Pinjuv, 68, held up a sign that said, "Illegals, Go Home. Your Rights Are There."

The pair, who had wrapped themselves in an American flag, became surrounded by angry protesters denouncing their message and another pro-immigrant demonstrator whisked them away to safety in a fenced-in dog run section of the park.

"I wasn't scared then, but now I realize we were in danger," Ms. Pinjuv said. "I believe that these people are hurting our country and they need to go back. It's wrong."

The demonstrations took many forms and included people from a disparate number of countries, many of them in Latin America, but also from Asia and other parts of the world.

In Seattle, organizers were urging people to pull their children out of school to bring them to a rally.

"We are telling people that this will be an educational experience for their children to learn more about civil rights and also to increase awareness of social issues," said Ricardo Ortega, a community organizer for the group El Comite Pro-Amnesia General y Justica Social. "Hopefully the next generation will be concerned about justice for everybody."

Police were preparing for a large but peaceful turnout.

In Florida, a crowd of 8,000 people showed up at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Homestead this morning for a religious ceremony on a field outside the church, according to Ada Rojas, coordinator for the Miami-Dade County rally.

Flags and images of the virgin Mary filled the horizon. People toted signs that read "Who will pick your fields and build your houses? Who will pick your tomatoes?"

The crowd shouted in Spanish: "We are here and we aren't leaving!"

"I think this is a great crowd," said Jonathan Fried, executive director of the group We Count. "It's a psychological warfare," he said. "Border Patrol was here this morning trying to scare people."

A priest from Sacred Heart said from the podium: "This includes all of us, everyone who has come to this country looking for a dream."

Among the demonstrators was Leonardo Hernandez, 24, a construction worker and computer science student at Miami-Dade College Homestead Campus, who is also president of the student government.

"I am undocumented, and even after I graduate I won't be able to find a job," Mr. Hernandez said. "My father is a citizen, but I arrived 10 years ago and I applied then but it'll be another year until they process mine."

Mr. Hernandez wore an Uncle Sam hat and a necklace with red, blue and white flowers.

Pastor Marcel Baptiste, of the New Hope Haitian Church, also attended the service.

"There's a big Haitian community here," he said. "We are here today because America represents hope. I know you have to control this country but you have to respect people as well. People just want to be free."

Felix Velasquez, 42, a construction worker from El Salvador who said he has been in the United States for 27 years, wore a Yankees baseball cap and held a United States flag.

He said he is in the process of becoming a citizen.

"I can't imagine having to return to my country," he said. "I came here when I was 17 and I know more about life here than anywhere else."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Monica Davey and Gretchen Ruethling from Chicago, Kirk Johnson and Katie Kelley from Denver, Andrea Zarate from Homestead, Fla., Steve Friess from Las Vegas, Cindy Chang from Los Angeles, Brenda Goodman from Atlanta, Ray Hernandez from Washington and Stacey Schultz from Seattle.

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