Chicago, US: 10,000 march for immigrant rights

Chicago, US: 10,000 march for immigrant rights

Last Saturday downtown Chicago was paralysed by tens of thousands of people marching for immigrants' rights. Joshua Hoyt examines this growing movement.

On Friday, March 10, 2006 Chicago’s downtown was paralysed by an immigrant march estimated at more than 100,000 people. They carried hand-lettered signs saying: “We are America,” “My Mexican immigrant son died in Iraq,” “I’m a dishwasher—not a criminal,” and “Don’t deport my parents.” The peaceful crowd stretched two and half miles, from Union Park on the West Side to their destination in Federal Plaza. No immigrant justice march like this has happened in Illinois history since some 80,000 immigrants marched down State Street demanding an 8-hour workday in 1886.

The Chicago march is part of a growing tsunami of immigrant protest across the nation. Last week 5,000 Mexicans gathered in Oregon; on Tuesday, March 6, some 30,000 Latinos from the Washington, D.C. area rallied on the U.S. Capitol steps.

The marches are tied to the U.S. Senate debate on immigration reform this month. The actions of the Senate are the last hope to win reasonable and workable reforms. There is no doubt that any bill reported out will include increased enforcement provisions. The question is whether they will also include measures that reunite divided immigrant families; create a guest worker program for the nation’s future labor needs; and – most divisively – include an eventual path to earned citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented working and paying taxes in the U.S.

But the marchers are also protesting the harshly punitive enforcement provisions of Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) HR 4437, an “enforcement only” approach to immigration reform that was hurriedly rammed through the House of Representatives just before Christmas. This law makes the 11 million undocumented dishwashers and nannies “aggravated criminal felons” and turns priests and nurses into criminals for “aiding and abetting” the undocumented.

The Chicago march is the work of both emerging Mexican immigrant leaders and also a crowning triumph for lifelong Mexican American activists. But the Illinoisan who is most responsible for kicking the sleeping giant, and who has the most to lose in the long term, was not present.

Illinois Congressman and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert made a decision last fall to use “illegal immigration” as the Republican Party’s next emotionally charged wedge issue. The political calculation is that the resentment and latent racism felt towards our new Mexican neighbors can be demagogued for political advantage this year, dividing the Democrats and keeping the House of Representatives in Republican hands. Other political opportunists across the nation, including perennial candidate Jim Oberweis in Illinois, have piled on. If “gay marriage” worked in 2004, then why not “illegals” in ’06?

However, in what appears to be an entirely predictable example of the law of unintended consequences, the immigrant communities in general and the Mexican community in particular have declined to allow themselves to be passive punching bags.

There are few communities in the U.S. that work harder at lower pay and in worse conditions than the Mexican community. They do this by and large with few complaints and in exchange for the promise that their children might live better lives than they will. But it is also a community with deep pride that does not appreciate having its hard work being denigrated by being called criminals or terrorists. The signs on Friday said it all: “We are America.”

The last big spasm of immigrant bashing was in California in the mid 1990’s by Governor Pete Wilson and Proposition 187. Mexican immigrants responded by first marching, and then becoming citizens and voting Democratic in record numbers.

Hastert’s short-sighted strategy has gored the Republican business community that understands our nation’s labor needs and energized a national Roman Catholic immigrant justice campaign so muscular that last week Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles threatened massive civil disobedience. But the anti-immigrant demagoguery has also launched an unprecedented national political mobilization by the Mexican and immigrant community. Oops!

A little noted fact from the ’04 presidential election was that socially conservative immigrant Latinos were 40% more likely to vote for President Bush than U.S. born Latinos. Now President Bush’s and Karl Rove’s carefully crafted and successful Hispanic outreach strategy is so much shredded lettuce.

What does this mean in Illinois? There are 348,000 legal immigrants in Illinois currently eligible to become U.S. citizens. If a substantial percentage of these folks now take the steps to become U.S. citizens and the immigrant Latinos are cemented into the “Blue” column of voters, it changes the political balance of power in Illinois for the next generation. Regardless, any short-term political gain to be made from the “Kick the illegals" strategy will likely lead to disastrous long-term pain for the Republican Party.

And, as if the point needed further emphasis for Speaker Hastert (whose district is now 25% Latino), flyers distributed at Friday’s march announced ten upcoming workshops to assist immigrants become citizens. Oh…and the motto of the march? “Hoy Marchamos! Manana Votamos!” (“We March Today. Tomorrow we Vote!”)

- Joshua Hoyt is the Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a statewide organization committed to the full participation of immigrant in civic life.

From Chicago Independant Media Centre

Posted By

Jason Cortez
Mar 16 2006 12:52


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