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Thousands across the U.S. turn out for a national day of action
Standing up for immigrant rights

October 6, 2006 | Page 15

FROM HOTEL workers seeking union rights in California to supporters of undocumented immigrants facing deportation in Connecticut, immigrant rights activists mobilized across the country on September 30.

The national day of action was called by the recently formed National Alliance for Immigrant Rights (NAIR).

-- In Los Angeles, more than 2,000 people took to the streets near LA International Airport on September 30 to support UNITE HERE's effort to organize workers at 13 airport hotels. The protest started in front of the Radisson, and continued to the Hilton and Westin hotels, where 300 people were arrested, to protest these chains' hard line on UNITE HERE contracts.

Housekeepers in area hotels make less than $11 an hour, and waiters in hotel restaurants make minimum wage plus tips. "These workers need a union to get respect, and of course higher benefits," Carlos from the already-unionized Beverly Wilshire hotel told Socialist Worker. "That's why we're here to support them."

The march was mostly made up of supporters, community and immigrant rights activists, and workers from around the city who are already represented by a union. Far fewer workers from the LAX hotels attended, and they were asked not to participate in the arrests due to fear of repercussions.

Three state assembly members and two city council members, as well as prominent clergy members, union leaders such as Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and many college students were arrested.

UNITE HERE staff worked with the police for months in advance to plan the arrests and required participants to go through a four-hour training to participate. "I don't think the union would have adopted such a seemingly militant strategy if May 1 hadn't happened," said Victor Fressie, a leader of a network of student immigrants' rights activists in East Los Angeles.

"This was a positive action because it opened up the door to organizing for the rights of immigrants as workers. At the same time, the union can't wheel out the students and the workers for a choreographed action, then try to negotiate something behind closed doors, and expect to win."

To win and enforce a strong contract at the LAX hotels, workers will have to actively plan strategies for fighting the bosses, in big battles like the fight for a just contract and small struggles like demanding respect from supervisors, on a day-to-day basis.

-- In Hartford, Conn., 500 activists from across the state marched and rallied to demand immigrant rights and an end to U.S.-sponsored wars abroad. Protesters linked the "war on terror" and the war on immigrants in the U.S., chanting "Money for jobs and education, not for wars and deportations!" and "Deporten la migra, ellos son los terroristas" (deport immigration enforcement, they're the terrorists).

Immigrants affected by the backlash spoke about their experiences, including activists from Danbury, who held a march of 200 people the day before in defense of 11 day laborers detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"We need to do a better job of training immigrants to know their rights and stand up for themselves," said Kath Gotleib, whose partner Erick Sarmiento faces possible deportation. "It's really important to come together for events like this, and really stay united," said Nadia, a student at Southern Connecticut State University whose mother waited 15 years for her papers.

The protest included immigrants who are sometimes underrepresented, including activists from the Middle East and South Asia, as well as from Latin America.

-- In Chicago, March 10 Committee organizers held a rally in front of the Social Security Administration building to call attention to employers using "no-match" letters (a routine warning that a SSN does not match an employee's filed I-9 form) to intimidate and fire immigrant workers.

Martín Unzueta of the Chicago Workers Collaborative led the press conference and asked the 60 workers, union and community activists to vote for a boycott of Applebees, which regularly discriminates against Latino employees.

Later in the day, an interfaith service was held to call for a moratorium on the deportations, where Elvira Arellano, the mother who took sanctuary from deportation in the San Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, expressed her resolve to stay strong.

Nearly 100 people from the community came out to show their support for Arellano as she faced the recent dismissal of her son's case in federal court. She will go to court next week to appeal her deportation case.

-- In Watsonville, Calif., 80 community members, young Latino activists and Muslim families attended a meeting on September 30.

The community was shaken by the deportation of 107 people three weeks ago. But the meeting showed that people are refusing to be silenced by the climate of fear that recent ICE raids were intended to induce.

The event, hosted by the hip-hop artist Immortal Technique and the Watsonville Brown Berets, included a Pajaro Valley School District administrator who said "the 107 deported were symbolic--the effect is exponential, shaking hundreds of families who wont come for our services now."

Opposition to the raids has been sustained with a protest every weekend since. The last, in Watsonville, drew 150. "Torture and prisons: who are they building it for?" said Adissa, a local Muslim leader. "What they're doing to Arabs and Muslims now, they'll be doing to Latinos next year and vice versa. It's test tactics."

-- In National City, Calif., 400 activists rallied in support of a declaration proclaiming the city as a sanctuary city. As a sanctuary, the city will not use city resources to cooperate with ICE deportation raids.

About 100 Minutemen who turned out to protest the event were separated from immigrant rights supporters by more than 100 police in riot gear.

-- In San Francisco, 200 people fathered at the New College Theater to discuss the ongoing struggle for immigrant rights.

The evening was moderated by Tim Redmond, editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and included Nativo López, president of the Mexican American Political Association; Renee Saucedo, a local immigrant rights activist and attorney; and Justin Akers Chacón, co-author of the book No One is Illegal. As Saucedo pointed out, "Both Republicans and Democrats are using anti-immigrant hysteria to get into office this year."

-- In Toledo, Ohio, hundreds of Farm Labor Organizing Committee members marched through downtown in support of immigrant rights, as part of their national convention.

-- In Providence, R.I., 40 people--including people whose family members are facing deportation--attended a picket of ICE offices.

-- In Rochester, N.Y., about 75 people attended a march through downtown to the federal building. An undocumented farmworker, who told how 16 people were detained following a series of raids just days earlier, was among the speakers.

Bridget Broderick, Brian Chidester, Owen Goodwin, Rick Greenblatt, Mike Iannacone, Sara Knopp, Rebecca Lewis, Jose Lovo, Alex Read and Matt Swagler contributed to this report.

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