Millions of demonstrators across the country have taken the immigrant rights debate beyond the Washington, D.C., Beltway and right-wing talk shows. They have opened the way towards winning majority support for the issue in the overall struggle against the ultra-right.
Labor, religious, civil rights, peace and other groups have helped build the mass upsurge of predominantly Latino and other immigrant communities of color. On April 10, they are stepping up their participation and reaching deeper into their bases to rally with immigrant communities in a national day of protest in dozens of cities and towns across the country.
April 10 begins a two-week spring congressional recess. The protest will leverage the force of the surging movement to reach key members of Congress when they are at home in their districts, pressing them to legislatively block the right-wing Republican anti-immigrant blitz.
Equally important is building support for democratic measures to legalize immigrant workers with a path to citizenship, due process and civil and labor rights.
The right-wing Republican leadership, with much media support, has orchestrated the anti-immigrant legislative blitz.
HR 4437, authored by the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee James Sensenbrenner, was rushed through with “strong support” from the White House in December. The bill has police-state dimensions with massive border and interior enforcement programs, reductions in due process and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and those who provide them any aid.
Though the bill, and its Senate companion SB 2454 introduced by Senate leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), lacks the employer-friendly guest worker features Bush proposes, it is a logical extension of his immigration policies since Sept. 11, 2001. Most functions have been put under the Department of Homeland Security, which has increasingly replaced civil with criminal proceedings, and especially replaced due process with expedited deportation and mandatory detentions. In June 2004, the administration terrorized Latino immigrants with selective dragnet deportation raids in California.
These repressive policies have had a chilling effect on immigrant communities and their allies while emboldening anti-immigrant demagogues. Bush’s national security and anti-terrorism themes have also smoke-screened global government and corporate policies that lower living standards in developing countries, impelling greater immigration to the U.S.
The immigrant rights upsurge reflects growing resentment against the deteriorating economic, social and political conditions, accelerated by right-wing Republican policies.
The eruption of millions in motion can be traced to persistent struggle on many levels. Despite claims to the contrary, Latino voters, with children of immigrants in the lead, increased their margins significantly against Bush in 2004 nationwide. This grew stronger in California’s 2005 election, helping defeat right-wing initiatives. Union organizing and contract and strike struggles have continued to attract greater numbers of immigrant workers into successful efforts.
In 2003 Mexican American college students united in protest against right-wing attacks on their campus groups.
In 2004 tens of thousands protested government immigration raids in California. In 2005 demonstrations against hate groups drew hundreds of thousands nationally, with over 20,000 protesting the Minutemen in Chicago on July 1.
In the same period, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride and other efforts for comprehensive immigration reform drew together an active national coalition of labor, religious and civil rights groups. Outrage at HR 4437 brought these trends together, opening the way for the immigrant/civil rights movement which erupted last month.
This new movement has brought forth the human faces of immigrant workers. Two polls taken after the Chicago and Los Angeles marches show that nationally 56 percent of Americans support temporary work status for the undocumented, and 59 percent in California support outright legal status.
In recent days civil rights, labor and religious leaders have stepped up their defense of immigrant rights. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the options today are perpetual second-class status for undocumented workers or “a road to citizenship, benefiting from their willingness to work, pay taxes and contribute.” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “We echo the cries of our immigrant brothers and sisters in calling for a real solution to our immigration problems.” Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles called for making April 5 a day of solidarity with undocumented workers.
Grassroots efforts have brought forward the aspirations of the undocumented for equality and full rights, especially following the Los Angeles demonstrations, where calls for amnesty, permanent residency, and economic boycotts, walkouts and work stoppages were roundly cheered. Proposals for an April 15 national student walkout and a May 1 Great American Boycott are drawing growing support.
The fight for equality for immigrants is an integral part of the long-term struggle for democracy in America that is at a critical point this year. In many ways the upsurge for immigrant worker equality is what the Bush-Sensenbrenner-Frist blitz of enforcement and guest worker programs has been intended to pre-empt. On April 10 the focus will be on stopping the pre-emption and laying the basis for the ongoing struggle for immigrants. The slogan “today we march, tomorrow we vote” is the keynote for using the the Nov. 7 elections to help end the right-wing, anti-immigrant, racist, anti-people domination of our government.
Rosalío Muñoz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Communist Party USA Southern California district organizer.