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Chicago rally for immigrant rights
"This is everyone's struggle"

By Bridget Broderick | March 16, 2007 | Page 16

MORE THAN 2,000 people joined a rally in Chicago's Federal Plaza March 10 on the one-year anniversary of the first of last spring's mega-marches for immigrant rights. This year's protest was the first event in "50 days of action" for just immigration reform in the lead-up to national demonstrations planned for May 1.

Even organizers were stunned last year by the turnout of some 300,000 people to protest the repressive Sensenbrenner bill that would have criminalized undocumented workers and those who assisted them in any way.

With the Sensenbrenner legislation dead, but portions of it enacted under other names, and in the wake of a series of workplace raids and deportations, this year's rally called for a moratorium on raids as well as unconditional legalization for all.

Organizers from the March 10 Committee--which built the rally along with 60 other endorsing groups--saw the demonstration as an opportunity to stand up publicly to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) intimidation of immigrant workers and begin rebuilding a grassroots movement to demand legalization for the over 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S.

"Many people think immigration reform has been resolved, but the truth is that we are quite far from a real solution that allows thousands of workers to work free from fear and persecution," Margarita Klein, of the UNITE HERE union, told the crowd.

"This year, we don't have a mega-march, but our demands are the same: No to a guest worker program; amnesty for all; no worker exposed to the abuse and exploitation of unscrupulous bosses, without the right to organize...This year, we will honor the Chicago martyrs who died for the 8-hour day, and we will honor our new martyrs--the men and women who have been deported and made victims of political manipulations."

March 10 Committee organizer Jorge Mújica urged the crowd to bring out larger numbers of people for May Day, and to encourage fellow workers to take the day off from work.

University of Illinois at Chicago student Raquel Vega called on youth to organize in their schools for themselves and their families, following the model of students protests in Los Angeles in 1968 and 2006.

Rally participants came on buses and individually, having heard about the event from Spanish-language radio and flyers around their neighborhoods. Among those who attended were workers from Testa Inc., a Chicago company where employees were fired based on the federal government's no-match letters claiming discrepancies with their Social Security data.

Miguel González of Red de Inmigrantes de Ohio came with other activists from Ohio to participate in the rally and speak out against the raids. "It's everyone's struggle, and we want to support it," he said. "If we don't organize a march in Ohio, we will be here [in Chicago] for May Day."

Other participants pledged to get involved in emergency response networks to protest raids and deportations that have increased over the past several months.

Jesús from Mexico said he had hoped there would be a larger crowd and more support from the media. "We need to have a real immigration reform that recognizes the contributions we immigrant workers make to society," he said. "I think we should boycott for a week so they see what we do."

But there is disagreement among immigrant rights organizations about where to focus resources and activity. Some see lobbying congressional representatives as more effective than grassroots protest.

Debates about the next steps in the movement and what to accept as immigration reform--for example, who is to be included the legalization process, as well as the question of guest worker programs and workers' rights--will continue as Congress prepares to discuss possible bills in the next few weeks.

Shaun Harkin, another March 10 organizer, spoke out at the rally for unconditional legalization for all, no guest-worker program and demilitarization of the border. "The old bracero program was a disaster, but Corporate America and George Bush are clamoring for a new guest-worker program, and Congress--both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, with its new congressional majority--are ready to give this to them," he said. "We have to do everything we can to stop this from happening."

Mobilizing thousands in 2006 stopped the worst of the anti-immigrant bills from being enacted. Now we must demand true immigration reform. At stake are the lives and livelihoods of millions of immigrant workers around the U.S.

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