Rebuilding the fight to defend immigrants

By Orlando SepĂșlveda

CHICAGO--More than 200 activists attended a regional conference on March 8 and 9 for the defense of immigrants. It was the second meeting aimed at reorganizing the immigrant rights movement in the Midwest, following a January gathering in Indiana.

The Chicago event combined community and labor leadership workshops, panels and discussions on immigration and politics, a cultural event and a work session to prepare the next steps of the movement, particularly a mobilization for May Day to demand the unconditional legalization of 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S.

More than 40 people interested in becoming labor and community leaders attended training workshops prepared by the Chicago Workers Collaborative and other community groups at Casa Michoacan, the site of many of the meetings responsible for the massive marches of 2006 and 2007.

Activists from the pro-immigrant March 10 Movement, local progressive media from the largely Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen, and academics all sponsored workshops. The topics included the history of the immigrant rights movement, the effects of NAFTA, neoliberal economic policies and immigration policy in an election year.

A panel with pro-immigrant and antiwar fighters was focused on the intersection of those two movements, particularly in the area of military recruitment in schools with a Latino majority. In another session, activists--Latinos, Blacks, Arabs and whites--generalized from their experiences in the fight against the racism of the political right, as well as in the writing and enforcement of the law.

About 30 young university and high school students and some teachers agreed to promote the next May Day march within the schools and among youth, as well as to conduct a workshop in April about educational opportunities for undocumented students. By the end of the first day, these young people staged a cultural event in tribute to International Women's Day.

Besides the regional mobilization for May Day, the participants agreed to form a committee to promote the unity of the immigration movement in the region, to start work on an economic boycott affecting the properties of the anti-immigrant Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), to be launched at the May Day march. Participants also agreed to meet at the Labor Notes conference April 12 near Detroit.