We demand legalization for all

September 10, 2009

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS activists took to the streets in Chicago and Los Angeles to put pressure on the Obama administration to stop programs like E-Verify that target immigrant workers for deportation and to demand legalization for all.

In Chicago on Labor Day, about 1,000 immigrant rights activists marched from Union Park to Federal Plaza for a rally. The bulk of marchers were working-class immigrants from Chicago's Southwest Side, who carried signs reading, "Just trying to put food on our plate, Mr. President." The demonstrators were answering the call of Father José Landaverde, of the Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Little Village, and the Justice Mission, a group that fights deportations cases.

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows local police to enforce immigration laws. E-Verify allows bosses to check immigration status of their workers, giving them a tool for union busting.

Jorge Mújica, a member of the March 10th Movement and a march organizer said:

Today, these programs amount to silent and secret raids. And on top, a couple of days after we called the march, Obama appeared in TV announcing that immigration reform would not be a priority this year. This made many people angry and contributed to the success of our march.

Families--the victims of these anti-immigrant laws--led the march, and groups of wives, children and students got up to the stage to demand Obama stop the deportations. "You have kids, Obama," said a mother. "Think in what would happen in they were separated from one of his parents."

A 6-year-old shouted, "Obama, return me my daddy!" A college-age student asked, "Why does our future have to stop after high school?" and made a call for undocumented students "to spearhead the struggle for legalization because our lives exemplify what's wrong with immigration laws. We have studied, worked and done nothing wrong, and they want to send us to a country we know nothing about."

"My brother and I had to drop out of school and started to work to support my siblings after my father was arrested," said another student.

Beatriz Sandoval, a march organizer and immigration lawyer who works with the Justice Mission attending cases of impoverished and disrupted immigrant families, said that the current legislation is "unjust especially to undocumented students, some of who don't learn their immigration status until they apply for college...as far as we now know ICE could be deporting today the next Obama or his/her parents."

Members of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 743 at SK Hand Tools, who went on strike after discovering that the company had dropped their health insurance, also turned out to march. At the rally, Local 743 President Richard Berg reiterated his local's commitment to the cause of legalization for all undocumented workers.

Worker, community and political organizations--including the Justice Mission, the Chicago Community and Workers Union, Workers United, Latino Organization of the Southwest, Immigrant Solidarity of DuPage and the International Socialist Organization, who carried a banner demanding "Legalization, Health Care and Jobs for All"--organized contingents in the march.

Activists from other movements also marched. Edward Krauze of the Chicago Single-Payer Action Network, a group that "pushes for legislation that includes everybody, independently of their immigration status," lamented that the Obama administration "bragged that their supported proposals for health care reform exclude undocumented workers." Also at the rally were contingents from the LBGT, antiwar and Palestine solidarity movements.

In the last election, the immigrant right movement voted overwhelmingly for Obama and the Democrats, and the administration's failure to address immigration reform made the next election a prominent theme. "We are here to say that we can't wait anymore and that if there is no legalization, there will not be re-election," commented Mújica.

At the same time, he and many speakers also argued for the need to build a movement in the long-term that relies on its own political activity and strength. At the rally, the marchers committed to prepare their comeback to downtown on May Day 2010 in greater numbers.

Later in the day in Chicago, around 1,000 unionists, labor activists and politicians gathered in historic Pullman in celebration of Labor Day. Now merely a neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago, Pullman was originally a company town, and was made famous as the site of one of labor’s bloodiest battles when National Guardsmen were brought in to break a railway workers’ strike in 1894.
The day’s program included entertainment in the form of old union songs, including Woody Guthrie’s iconic (though often sterilized of its implications) “This land is your land,” and “I’m sticking with the Union,” followed by speeches from Labor leaders and community activists.
Many speakers alluded to the site’s history, and several evoked the combative spirit of the early labor movement as a guiding light needed for the movement to win things like health care reform and the Employee Free Choice act.
-- In Los Angeles, 700 workers and supporters braved 96-degree temperatures on September 5 to join a march called by workers from Overhill Farms, American Apparel and Farmer Johns under the banner of "Marcha para Reforma Migratoria" (March for Immigration Reform).

Protesters came together to demand that President Barack Obama put a stop to sanctions on employers and E-Verify, which have led to the mass firing of immigrant workers.

The half-mile march ended at Los Angeles' historic Pershing Square, where marchers heard a range of speakers--but primarily those from workplaces where immigrants have been targeted by raids. They addressed several issues, including the fact that their employers were under no obligation from the government to fire their workers--explaining that employers often use this tactic to eliminate experienced workers, and replace them with lower-paid workers with no benefits.

One woman explained:

Many of us supported President Obama because he promised us hope, change and immigration reform. Instead, we all lost our jobs, and many of us may be deported. What sort of hope is that? I have children to feed, and now I have no job.

Nativo Lopez of the Mexican American Political Association called on Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to end punitive enforcement measures, including 287(g), E-Verify and Secure Communities immediately. Many speakers demanded the administration stop pushing talk of comprehensive immigration reform into the future and embrace the tenets of the "Legalize America" campaign.

Another rally is planned for October. Given the recent increase of raids, there's an urgent need to push back and demand legalization for all immigrants now.

John McDonald contributed to this article.

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