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Getting ready for May Day

April 20, 2007 | Page 15

SHAUN HARKIN reports on plans around the country for a day of action for immigrant rights.

ORGANIZERS ACROSS the country are planning once again to make May 1 a day of action in support of immigrant rights this year.

The protests, timed to mark the anniversary of last year's massive May Day mobilization and to celebrate International Workers Day, will occur at a crucial moment. Escalating Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations have terrorized immigrant communities, and new legislation under discussion in Congress would further criminalize the undocumented, extend militarization of the border, build new detention centers and create a massive guest-worker program.

What's more, anger is widespread in response to the Bush White House's recently released "Z visa" draft proposal--deemed only "one step away" from the draconian Sensenbrenner bill passed in the House of Representatives in December 2005.

Actions are already planned in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington, Providence, R.I., Rochester, N.Y., Santa Ana, Calif., Tucson, Ariz., Madison, Wis., New Bedford, Mass., New Haven, Conn., and San Antonio, Texas

In Chicago, an undocumented single mother, Elvira Arellano, who has bravely defied an order of deportation by taking sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church, began a hunger strike on April 6 that will last until May Day to support immigrant rights and demand family reunification.

Significantly, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals at six West Coast ports resolved to participate in the day of action by holding "stop work meetings" in support of workers and immigrant rights.

The San Francisco Labor Council resolved to "endorse and encourage participation in the May Day 2007 marches and other protest activities in San Francisco and cities nationwide, behind the banner of: legalization and equal rights for immigrant workers, stop the brutal raids on immigrant workers, no 'guest worker' programs, a moratorium on deportations, and uniting workers of all nationalities and races in the struggle for our rights and our future."

In San Antonio, Texas, the Southwest Workers Union is calling for a "general strike and mass mobilization for migrant and workers rights."

Chicago activists are planning a united rally and march to commemorate the 1886 struggle for the eight-hour workday and demand "unconditional legalization for all, no to border walls and militarization of the border, no to guest-worker programs, and no to raids and deportations," in the words of the March 10 Movement.

In San Francisco, organizers in the Movement for General Amnesty are calling for "no work, no school, no shopping" and are planning a Noon march. In Washington, organizers are planning a day of action for immigrant rights.

High school and college students in Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere are also planning walkouts on May 1.

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LAST YEAR'S May 1 actions for immigrant rights were some of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. Several million people marched and heeded the call to "boycott" work, school and shopping in support of "a day without immigrants."

The massive mobilizations on May Day and before changed the political climate and played a key role in the defeat of HR 4437--the draconian bill authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) that called for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and would have criminalized anyone who aided them.

This year, the mobilizations are no less important, but are likely to be smaller in size. With Congress now controlled by the Democratic Party, some immigrant rights organizations are focusing their efforts on lobbying and supporting what Washington politicians call "comprehensive immigration reform."

The pressure toward lobbying has been ratcheted up further since Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Luis Gutíerrez (D-Ill.) introduced the STRIVE (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy) Act of 2007 a few weeks ago in the House of Representatives.

But the more immigrant activists learn about the actual content and ramifications of the STRIVE Act, the more support for it ebbs. Even those who reluctantly back it acknowledge it has many shortcomings and is in need of amendment.

For now, though, influential groups have thrown their weight into lobbying, and haven't backed the May Day protests. The orientation by many groups on Congress, along with pressure from the raids, will likely mean fewer have the confidence to stay away from work this year.

However, the legacy of last year's boycott continues to influence activists. For example, immigrant rights supporters in Carbondale, Colo., organized a boycott from March 25 to April 1 demanding immigration reform. The effectiveness of taking economic action to fight for political demands was not lost on those who participated last year.

May 1 actions this year can challenge the anti-immigrant backlash, strengthen grassroots organizing to respond to raids and deportations and rebuild confidence to articulate political demands that go well beyond what Democrats and Republicans are willing to discuss.

Amnesty and genuine legalization without a guest-worker program is best way to further the interests of immigrant and native-born workers in U.S.

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