Immigrant rally planned for Friday; more events this weekend
Advocates calling for changes in the nation's immigration laws holding rallies and events across the country, including in South Florida
By Luis F. Perez
The South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), April 30, 2009
Miami — South Florida advocates are holding an immigration rally in Miami on Friday, putting on know-your-rights presentations and writing letters calling for change in the nation's immigration laws.
They're coordinating their activities around a national agenda of activities, including at least 40 other rallies and events around the country.
Plans call for marchers to gather around 4 p.m. Friday in Miami's Chopin Plaza where they will hear Haitian hip hop, Mayan music and about a dozen speakers before heading down Brickell Avenue for about a mile, organizers said. Advocates in Palm Beach County are writing to the first lady, asking her to stop immigration raids that separate families. In Homestead, they plan to hold a know-your rights presentation Sunday at a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
'We're trying to demonstrate community support for President Obama's desire to get and win immigration reform,' said Katherine Gorell, spokeswoman for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which is coordinating events around the state. Thousands came out to march in 2006 around South Florida. The following year, hundreds did the same. Gorell said she expects hundreds this time at the Miami rally.
Advocates are trying to bring attention to the issue at a time when leaders in Washington are starting to concentrate on it, they say. The Obama administration has said it plans this year to tackle the immigration issue, including finding a path to legalize an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., led a Senate hearing Thursday titled 'Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?'
When Congress took up immigration in 2006 and 2007, advocates organized marches that brought out millions in cities across the country.
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tighter immigration controls, said he welcomed the rallies then and now.
'My sense is that an illegal alien march is the best recruiting tool against amnesty that there is,' he said.
Immigrant advocates, however, say the marches encouraged a record number of immigrants, particularly Hispanics, to apply for citizenship and to vote.
'What people learned is that we needed long-term political participation and empowerment strategies,' said Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy research and advocacy at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Still, some experts say television images of millions of people marching on American streets, some waving foreign flags, doomed President George W. Bush's 2007 effort to change immigration law.
'It was a mistake both tactically and in principal,' said David Abraham, a University of Miami Law School professor who studies immigration.
Amalia Pallares, a political scientist in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, surveyed people who marched in the 2006 and 2007 rallies. Many who participated felt strongly that it was important to take part, she said. But there was a downside.
It was used by 'anti-immigrant forces' to oppose any kind of change, Pallares said. Monica Duenas, of West Palm Beach, wants changes to the country's immigration policy, she said. But she is not one for marches. The Peruvian native didn't take part in the previous years and doesn't plan to participate this year, she said. But watching the millions on TV in the past did play a part in her decision to become a naturalized citizen last year.
'I didn't do it only to become a citizen,' Duenas said. 'I wanted to vote.'
She did. In November. For Obama.
May Day marches, rallies set
By Tyche Hendricks
The San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 2009
Immigration rallies to draw expanded coalition
By Deepti Hajela
The Associated Press, April 30, 2009
May day rallies planned today
Tens of thousands of immigration activists will hit the streets in L.A. and beyond, marching for reform.
By Teresa Watanabe
The Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2009
Immigrant rights march stops Loop traffic
The Chicago Tribune, May 1, 2009
Today's march for immigrants' rights stepped off from Union Park with a much smaller crowd than in years past.
About 2,000 people banged drums, blew trumpets, chanted and carried signs calling for the legalization of immigrants as the march began about this morning.
At 1:15 pm, the marchers began their way into federal plaza, fighting to make up with noise and enthusiasm what they lacked in size.
Sounding at times like a rag-tag cavalry in the soft drizzle with trumpets blaring and drums pounding, they stopped Loop traffic for nearly 30 minutes, their ranks stretching back several blocks.
Where previous marches had the feel of a grassroots movement with mothers pushing strollers and thousands of workers taking the day off work, this year's demonstration was boiled down mostly to the core of the immigration reform movement.
Labor unions, in particular, made up most of the crowd, with churches and student groups also joining in the chants.
Those students called for passage of the so-called DREAM Act that would grant conditional legal status to students.
'This is our year,' said Tamara Montes de Oca, 17, convinced legislation introduced in the Senate earlier this year would pass after failing in previous congressional sessions.
De Oca plans to attend the University of Illinois in Champaign next year, though she is unsure how she'll make the $28,000 annual tuition without legal status. She was attending her first march with a group of fellow students from the Josephinum Academy in Wicker Park, all cheering when a speaker chanted 'Education is a right!'.
Debbie Marian de Lada, 17, the class valedictorian at Josephinum after arriving as a child from the Philippines, said she had been denied acceptance to several universities 'because they consider me an international student.'
'I've worked very hard,' said de Lada, who finally did get accepted to Loyola University. 'I can only depend on loans.'
Organizers worried over the last few days that the pall of the swine flu virus would keep the number of marchers down.
In addition, some or the urgency has lessened as the Obama administration has eased up on deportations and congressional leaders have expressed willingness to pursue immigration reform.
From the park, marchers are going east on Washington Street to Des Plaines Avenue, south on Des Plaines to Jackson Boulevard, east on Jackson to Dearborn Street, north on Dearborn to Adams Street and on to Federal Plaza.
Their Spanish shouts of 'Obama feels the people are present' drowned out the folk guitar singer at Potbelly's and one woman's cell phone conversation as she screamed into her Bluetooth receiver 'I can't … hear you!'
Unlike many in the crowd who had participated in previous marches, Alfonso Perez, 53, was out for the first time.
The recently laid off mechanic said he felt compelled to join this year because he finally grew tired of 'all the injustices handed to immigrant workers.'
'I worked there for 35 years,' he fumed about his former Chicago employer. 'I gave them my sweat and just because I don't know English very well, they let me go.'
There will be rolling street closures.
More than two dozen CTA bus routes are expected to be altered or face delays this afternoon.
Swine flu could put damper on immigration rallies
By Sophia Tareen
The Associated Press, May 1, 2009
Chicago (AP) — The timing is not the best. Immigration-rights rallies are set for Friday as health officials try to clamp down on a swine flu epidemic with roots in the same country as many of the expected demonstrators: Mexico.
Public health officials on Thursday had not advised canceling large-scale events unless they were specifically tied to an institution or location with a laboratory-confirmed case of the illness. They urged people to stay home if they are sick.
Organizers of the May Day rallies, which have drawn thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people in recent years, said they would look to recommendations from public health officials about whether to cancel or modify the events.
'We're monitoring the situation to make sure that anything that is going to be conducive to the health and safety of communities is observed,' said Clarissa Martinez, a director for the National Council of La Raza.
Crowds on Friday were expected to be around the same as last year. In Chicago, which has had the nation's largest marches in recent years, about 15,000 participated in 2008. That's a dramatic drop from 2006, when more than 400,000 took to the streets.
Thousands also were expected at events Friday in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Seattle and other cities. Health officials urged participants to use common sense, including washing their hands and avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing.
'Of course, anyone who doesn't feel well should stay home,' said Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. She added that she doesn't think the march should be canceled.
Some schools have closed because of the swine flu outbreak, and U.S. and Mexican officials have been urging migrant workers to take health precautions and get medical care if they feel sick.
The rallies come as illegal immigrants are being blamed on some conservative blogs and talk shows for spreading swine flu in the U.S. The outbreak is believed to have originated in Mexico, where there are 168 suspected deaths from the disease, before spreading to at least 10 other countries, including the U.S.
The only confirmed U.S. swine-flu death was of a Mexican toddler whose family was visiting relatives in Texas; many reported cases were among U.S. citizens who vacationed in Mexico.
'For people who like to blame Mexicans, they are going to blame us for everything no matter what,' said Jorge Mujica, a labor union activist and organizer for Chicago's immigrant rights march. 'We are not going to pay attention to that.'
For most rally organizers, swine flu was secondary to promoting immigration reform, including pathways to citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants hopes buoyed with Barack Obama in the White House and a Democratic-controlled Congress.
More than 1 million people marched in cities across the country in 2006, when some in Congress were pushing for tougher laws against illegal immigrants. Although turnout at the marches has dropped steeply since then, organizers say their mission remains the same.
'It's important for us to continue the fight,' said Margarita Klein with Workers United in Chicago, adding that union workers had been preparing for two months for Friday's event.
Union leaders said they have set aside differences to promote a unified immigration overhaul plan they hope will get through Congress this year.
'I think we're in a different position now in April 2009 than in April 2007,' said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. 'I think it's become more diverse and mainstream, sort of at the same time.'