UNITED STATES: Massive protests defend immigrant rights

April 26, 2006

Eric Ruder, Chicago

The streets of cities across the US were filled on April 10 with supporters of immigrant rights making their voices heard and sending a message of proud defiance to the politicians who want to keep undocumented workers as second-class citizens. At least 1 million people joined marches in two days of demonstrations held in more than 120 cities.

In New York City, 80 different feeder marches from every immigrant neighbourhood in the city — from Queens, from Brooklyn, from Chinatown and Washington Heights — converged in a massive march through Manhattan. Police estimated the crowd at more than 500,000.

There were big contingents from a vast range of immigrant communities — Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Arab and South Asian, Pakistani, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Haitian and many others — streaming through the streets.

"We say no to criminalisation, we say no to politicians trading away our civil liberties in the name of the war on terror", said Monami Maulik of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a South-Asian immigrant rights group. "We know it's policies like NAFTA that destroy our communities and drive people to come here. We say no to their free trade agreements, we say no to guest-worker programs, we say no to war and occupation!"

New York was far from the only place where the city streets were turned into march thoroughfares. A day earlier, 500,000 people surged through Dallas, surprising police and march organisers alike.

"We've got soldiers in Iraq from Mexico, South America, Africa, Russia", said Johnny Carillo, who came to show support for the immigrant soldiers that he met while on a tour of duty in Iraq. "I'm marching for their families. I'm of Hispanic descent, but I've never even been to Mexico. But I think these people have a right to be here."

Saeed Tavakkol works with a moving company that employs legal immigrants as well as undocumented workers. "I'm from Iran, but this is not just for them", said Tavakkol. "I'm here for my employees. I told them to come, too. This is a cause for humanity."

In San Diego, 100,000 marched; in Atlanta, at least 50,000 marched; and in Phoenix, at least 25,000 took to the streets.

In Washington, well over 100,000 protesters filled the mall. Vehicles with huge loudspeakers on top drove alongside the area piping Spanish-language radio broadcasts to the crowd. Large groups of high school and elementary students and families with kids and strollers joined labourers and other workers to demand justice.

In Seattle, between 50,000 and 60,000 marched, chanting "We're not criminals, we are workers" and "El pueblo unido jam s ser  vencido" ["The people united will never be defeated"].

In Boston, at least 30,000 turned out. Like in many cities, the mostly Latino crowd was sprinkled with contingents of immigrants from countries elsewhere around the world. One sign read, "My only crime was earning bread for my family", and chants in favour of full amnesty for immigrant workers caught on quickly.

In addition to the big marches that snarled traffic in large cities, smaller protests across the US made the enormous contributions of immigrants felt across the US. The meatpacking industry, which relies heavily on Mexican workers to do the dangerous and low-paid work that keeps its plants moving, temporarily closed or slowed down operations at facilities from Nebraska to North Carolina.

From Miami to Burlington, Vermont, to Garden City, Kansas, to Portland, Oregon, immigrants left work and school to make their voices heard.

More than 20,000 marched in Sacramento in the pouring rain, chanting "Queremos justicia, queremos amnist¡a" ("We want justice and amnesty").

In Madison, Wis., 10,000 marched from a park to the state capitol building. "We will continue to push until we have full amnesty for immigrants", said Salvador Carranza, president of the immigrant rights organisation LUChA and one of the main organizers of the event.

In Salem, Oregon, 10,000 marched, chanting "Sin amnist¡a, no hay justicia" ["Without amnesty, there is no justice"], and in Providence, Rhode Island, nearly 5000 had gathered even before the march was scheduled to begin, with signs reading "We are workers, not criminals" and "I need my family together".

In New Haven, Connecticut, a total of 5000 attended two different events — and the main rally was organized by a committee of just six people. In Oxnard, California, several thousand joined a march sponsored by the United Farm Workers; 1,000 turned out in Champaign, Illinois; 1000 at three events in Chicago; 600 in Rochester, Minnesota; and 120 in Burlington.

With this massive turnout, the movement for immigrant rights has come to embody one of its principal slogans: "­S¡, se puede!" ("Yes, we can!").

[From Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International Socialist Organization. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>.]

From Green Left Weekly, April 26, 2006.
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