Immigrant rights forces keep up the heat

The continuing mass upsurge for immigrant rights, with hundreds of May 1 demonstrations being organized nationwide, drew a reaction from the Bush administration last week. Nationwide raids by the Department of Homeland Security on April 19-20 were followed by presidential pro-immigrant rhetoric and meetings to broker a compromise Senate immigration bill.

Although the Senate reconvened April 24 after a two-week recess, Republican leaders Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) delayed any formal debate on immigration legislation on the floor and in committee until after the May 1 demonstrations. Frist announced he wanted to bring a bill to the floor for debate and passage before Memorial Day, May 29.

The May 1 actions will continue to keep the issue in the light of day rather than behind closed doors. Massive marches are planned for Chicago, home of the 1886 Haymarket Square rally memorialized as International Workers Day, as well as Washington, Los Angeles and uncounted other cities and towns. In many areas workers have convinced employers to close workplaces in solidarity with pro-immigrant events. Many are not working, shopping or going to school to dramatize the contributions of immigrants to the economy and society.

The May 1 events are united in calling for the defeat of HR 4437 and for the principles of a path to citizenship, family unification, worker rights, due process and civic participation for all immigrants.

In many cities, voter registration will take place to back up the slogan, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” which resonates louder and louder for congresspersons as the November elections draw nearer. In Los Angeles, the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SWVREP) is coordinating voter registration at several rallies.

SWVREP President Antonio Gonzalez said that among Latinos the immigrant rights movement has given an “added burst of energy for political action particularly among youth who have been the least likely to vote.” In recent years increased voting by the sons and daughters of immigrants has pushed the increase in Latino voting beyond expectations, and an extra burst of pro-immigrant voters this year “can make a difference in many House, Senate and other key races all over the country.”

Gonzalez said anti-immigrant Republicans are now especially vulnerable in two California congressional races in the “San Diego and Stockton areas, as well as Senator Kyle (R) in Arizona and likely other states.”

At an April 15 student-organized rally for immigrant rights in Los Angeles, California state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D) said that 750,000 youths will be newly eligible to vote by the Nov. 7 elections. He told the students, “If you register and get out the vote you can help send [California Gov.] Schwarzenegger back to the movies.”

Politicians are particularly conscious of potential changes in voting patterns, as a switch of 15 House and six Senate seats from Republican to Democrat in the November elections would change the leadership of each chamber.

The Republicans could lose a seat as early as June 6 in the runoff to fill the vacancy in California’s 50th Congressional District left by Randall “Duke” Cunningham, who resigned in disgrace in a corruption scandal.

Francine Busby, a moderate Democrat and school board member, won 44 percent of the vote in an open primary in the heavily Republican district. Her opponent, Brian Bilbray, a former congressman, is running on an anti-immigrant platform, calling for authorizing military deployment on the border and denying citizenship to U.S.-born children of undocumented workers. A Democratic victory in the district north of San Diego would likely reduce pressures to crack down on immigrants in Congress.

Joelle Fishman, chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party USA, said, “More pro-immigrant political action can amend or hopefully block the worst the Republicans have been trying to rush or maneuver through.” She added that the immigrant rights upsurge “now filling the streets in a quest for equality is creating a new political landscape that will benefit all working people in our country.”

The immigrant rights movement, joined with peace, labor, African American, Latino, women and youth and other democratic causes, can defeat right-wing Republican control of Congress, said Fishman. Republican loss of House leadership would replace James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), author of the racist, anti-labor HR 4437, with progressive African American John Conyers (D-Mich) as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“The movement for immigrant rights would be strengthened in its ability not only to stop draconian legislation, but to demand that Congress act in the interests of immigrant and native born workers alike,” Fishman said.