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In the streets for immigrant rights
Making our voices heard

By Eric Ruder | April 14, 2006 | Page 5

THE STREETS of cities across the U.S. were filled on April 10 with supporters of immigrant rights--making their voices heard and sending a message of proud defiance to the politicians who want to keep undocumented workers as second-class citizens.

Over 1 million people joined marches in two days of demonstrations held in more than 120 cities.

In New York City, 80 different feeder marches--from every immigrant neighborhood in the city, from Queens, from Brooklyn, from Chinatown and Washington Heights--converged in a massive march through Manhattan. Police estimated the crowd at more than 500,000.

There were big contingents from a vast range of immigrant communities--Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Arab and South Asian, Pakistani, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Haitian and many others--streaming through the streets.

"We say no to criminalization, we say no to politicians trading away our civil liberties in the name of the 'war on terror,'" said Monami Maulik of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a South Asian immigrant rights group. "We know it's policies like NAFTA that destroy our communities and drive people to come here. We say no to their free trade agreements, we say no to guest-worker programs, we say no to war and occupation!"

A feeder march of some 1,500 students started from the Borough of Manhattan Community College and met up with the main stream of demonstrators.

New York was far from the only place where the city streets were turned into march thoroughfares. A day earlier, 500,000 people surged through Dallas, surprising police and march organizers alike.

"We've got soldiers in Iraq from Mexico, South America, Africa, Russia," said Johnny Carillo, who came to show support for the immigrant soldiers that he met while on a tour of duty in Iraq. "I'm marching for their families. I'm of Hispanic descent, but I've never even been to Mexico. But I think these people have a right to be here."

Saeed Tavakkol works with a moving company that employs legal immigrants as well as undocumented workers. "I'm from Iran, but this is not just for them," said Tavakkol. "I'm here for my employees. I told them to come, too. This is a cause for humanity."

In San Diego, 100,000 marched; in Atlanta, more than 50,000 marched; and in Phoenix, more than 25,000 took to the streets.

In Washington, D.C., the mall--from the Capitol to the Washington Monument--filled with well over 100,000. Vehicles with huge loudspeakers on top drove alongside the area piping Spanish-language radio broadcasts to the crowd. Large groups of high school and elementary students and families with kids and strollers joined laborers and other workers to demand justice.

In Seattle, between 50,000 and 60,000 marched, chanting "We're not criminals, we are workers" and "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido."

In Boston, at least 30,000 turned out. Like in many cities, the mostly Latino crowd was sprinkled with contingents of immigrants from countries elsewhere around the world. One sign read, "My only crime was earning bread for my family," and chants in favor of full amnesty for immigrant workers caught on quickly.

In addition to the big marches that snarled traffic in large cities, smaller protests across the U.S. made the enormous contributions of immigrants felt across the U.S. The meatpacking industry, which relies heavily on Mexican workers to do the dangerous and low-paid work that keeps its plants moving, temporarily closed or slowed down operations at facilities from Nebraska to North Carolina.

From Miami to Burlington, Vt., to Garden City, Kan., to Portland, Ore., immigrants left work and school to make their voices heard.

More than 20,000 marched in Sacramento in the pouring rain, chanting "Queremos justicia, queremos amnistía" (We want justice and amnesty).

In Madison, Wis., 10,000 marched from a park to the state capitol building. "We will continue to push until we have full amnesty for immigrants," said Salvador Carranza, president of the immigrant rights organization LUChA and one of the main organizers of the event.

In Salem, Ore., 10,000 marched, chanting "Sin amnistía, no hay justicia," and in Providence, R.I., nearly 5,000 had gathered even before the march was scheduled to begin, with signs reading "We are workers, not criminals" and "I need my family together."

In New Haven, Conn., a total of 5,000 attended two different events--and the main rally was organized by a committee of just six people. In Oxnard, Calif., several thousand joined a march sponsored by the United Farm Workers; 1,000 turned out in Champaign, Ill.; 1,000 at three events in Chicago; 600 in Rochester; 120 in Burlington, Vt.

With this massive turnout, the movement for immigrant rights has come to embody one of its principal slogans: "¡Sí, se puede!" (Yes, we can!).

Craig Berman, Mallory Bernstein, Dave Buckingham, Rachel Cohen, Shane Dillingham, Brian Duggan, Brian Erway, James Fiorentino, Naveen Jaganathan, Jessica Kochick, Steve Leigh, Amanda Maystead, Chris Mobley, Jenny Olson, John Osmand, Khury Petersen-Smith, Paul Pryse, Bob Quellos, Jen Roesch, Kyle Schmaus and Adam Norden contributed to this report.

Looking forward to May 1

SUPPORTERS OF immigrant rights are now looking ahead to May 1 and a national day of action dubbed "A day without an immigrant" and "The great American boycott."

Organizers of the day of action are calling on all immigrants to stay away from work and school, close their businesses, refrain from buying and selling, and hold rallies at symbolic economic centers such as stock exchanges and anti-immigrant corporations.

"We believe that increased enforcement is a step in the wrong direction and will only serve to facilitate more tragedies along the Mexican-U.S. border in terms of deaths and family separation," reads the May 1 call to action.

Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association and a leading organizer of the May 1 call, said the day's events would "send a political message to the governing elite of this country that our families want full, immediate, unconditional amnesty--to be legalized in this country, and not part of a stratified bracero-type program to maintain them in servitude for prolonged periods of time."

The turnout is expected to be massive, involving immigrants across the country who represent nations around the world.

In Los Angeles, unions are helping to provide logistical support for the actions, with regular meetings of the Labor Community Coalition taking place at the AFL-CIO offices. According to LA organizers, leaflets are circulating on the docks calling on truck drivers to take the day off.

And former bracero workers on the Mexican side of the border plan to mobilize at all of the important border crossings to ask Mexicans not to cross into the U.S. to shop or work.

To learn more about the May 1 day of action, go to www.nohr4437.org on the Web.

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