The unprecedented wave of immigrants' rights protests sweeping the United
States reached a new high yesterday as an estimated two million people took
to the streets in 140 different cities around the country an extraordinary
mobilisation many supporters are likening to a second civil rights movement.
Constanza Jarquel, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, marches with demonstrators through the streets during an immigration-rights rally in Boston on Monday, April 10, 2006. Hundreds of thousands of people, demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants, took to the streets in dozens of cities Monday, in some of the most widespread demonstrations since the mass protests began around the country two weeks ago. (AP Photo/William B. Plowman)
The National Day of Action took many forms including a consumer boycott by
immigrants and labour stoppages. Probably the biggest demonstration took
place along the National Mall in Washington where many tens of thousands
gathered on a brilliant spring afternoon to listen to speeches urging unity
and proclaiming the Hispanic community's love of its adopted nation.
Thousands were waving flags. Some were of Latin American countries, but the
overwhelming majority waved the Stars and Stripes.
"They want to have a law to make all us criminals," said Celerino
Lopez, a construction worker from Oaxaca, Mexico. He and his wife crossed
the desert to enter the US illegally nine years ago. He said there were no
jobs or opportunities at home.
"We come here to work, we are not terrorists. I want my child to learn
English and to get a job," he said.
The demonstration took place just yards from the Capitol, where Senators
last week failed to reach agreement on wide-ranging immigration reform that
might have offered a way for the nation's estimated 12 million undocumented
immigrants to achieve legal recognition and greater security.
Politicians from both major parties have been blindsided by the protests,
whose size and passion caught everyone off guard. Two weeks ago, Los Angeles
saw the biggest protest in its history as half a million people took to the
streets. On Sunday, up to half a million marched through the centre of
Dallas, while smaller protests rocked such unlikely outposts of immigrant
activism as Des Moines, Iowa, and Boise, Idaho.
The immigrants have reacted first and foremost to draconian legislation
proposed by radical Republicans in the House of Representatives to
criminalise anyone in the country without proper residency papers and to
build a military fence along 700 miles of the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border.
But there is also a deeper feeling that in a nation of immigrants it is
wrong for millions of people, whose labour is essential to the service
economy, to live in the shadows, many of the woefully underpaid and at
constant risk of exploitation or abrupt termination. "They are trying
to make us criminals but we are not," said Kary Garcia, 17, a high
school student whose parents brought her to the US seven years ago from
Mexico City. "We do the jobs Americans don't want. We do the hard jobs."
Illegal immigrants pay thousands of dollars for the chance of a new life.
One Salvadorian man, Roberto, said he paid $13,000 (£7,500) to smugglers two
years ago to bring him and his son. "It took one month. Train, bus,
everything," he said.
The protest movement has split Republicans, with radicals sticking to their
aggressively anti-immigrant agenda while moderates including President
George Bush have appealed for a compromise that would end the unregulated
inflow of migrants across the Mexican border and establish a framework
recognising the realities of the US labour market.
The Democrats, meanwhile, have largely failed to seize on the issue
appearing more afraid of the large number of Americans who don't think
immigrants should be cut any slack.
The protests have already pushed the Senate in a more progressive direction.
A package that would give most, if not all, illegal immigrants a path to
residency and citizenship, establish a guest worker programme and beef up
security on the border came close to approval before being scuppered at the
"Neither party can afford to shrug off or ignore the surging street
rallies materialising before their eyes," said Marc Cooper, a border
specialist at the University of Southern California's Institute for Justice
and Journalism. "They can all do the math. While the 'illegals' can't
vote, they have millions of cousins, uncles and even children who can and
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited