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Immigrants Stage Week-Long Boycott in Colorado

Aaron Glantz

SAN FRANCISCO - Immigrant rights activists in Colorado have launched a week-long economic boycott, saying they want to show how big an impact immigrants have on the economy."Immigrants have substantial buying power that is often taken for granted," Julien Ross of the Denver-based Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) told OneWorld.

CIRC is calling on immigrants to refrain from buying anything but necessities this week. In addition, the group is urging supporters to pull most of their money out of bank accounts and take a week-long break before sending any money to relatives who live outside the United States.

"We need fair and just immigration reform now," Ross said. "Families are being divided and children are being orphaned by immigration raids; women and children are dying in the desert crossing into this country. We have a labor crisis in Colorado where farms cannot find enough workers to tend their crops. By any measure, we have a crisis here."

Last week lawmakers in Washington introduced the so-called STRIVE Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain legal residency in the United States after paying a fee and undergoing a background check. It would also create a program to allow nearly half a million people to enter the country each year to work low-skill jobs.

Some immigration reform proponents have already come out against the bill, which also includes a slew of measures to ratchet up security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the American Friends Service Committee, "the STRIVE Act offers little to address the root causes of undocumented migration and contains several troubling provisions," including one that would require immigrants to leave the United States and re-enter before qualifying for legal immigration status.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, which has supported efforts to organize immigrants living in Colorado, said the bill does not meet fundamental standards of human rights.

This week's economic boycott in Colorado comes exactly one year after one the largest immigrant rights demonstrations in U.S. history.

Last March 25, more than half a million people took to the streets of Los Angeles to protest a Congressional measure known as HR 4437, which would have made it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in the United States or to help those who remain in the United States without legal documentation. It also would have required churches and non-profit organizations to require proof of legal status before providing charity and it would have mandated construction of a giant fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Five weeks later, on May 1, millions of people took to the streets across the country, and Congress ultimately shelved the bill. Hundreds of thousands turned out in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, and 75,000 protested in Denver.

But the scrapping of HR 4437 resulted in gridlock rather than a solution in Washington and the year since has not been kind to immigrants in Colorado.

Last November, Colorado voters approved two immigration measures. Referendum H, which denies a state tax credit to employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, passed with 50.8 percent of the vote. Referendum K, which directs the state attorney general to sue the federal government to demand enforcement of immigration laws, got 56 percent of the vote.

The voter-approved initiatives came after then-Governor Bill Owens signed a law directing local police to ask about the immigration status of drivers they stop. The bill, SB90, also instructs police to pass that information on to federal authorities.

That, activists say, has created a climate of fear in immigrant communities. The law took effect in January. Sylvia Martinez of the group Latinos Unidos in Greeley, Colorado told OneWorld that reports of police harassment and racial profiling have already been coming in.

"Police officers are not only asking people for their documentation to be in this country but also adding to that their own personal comments," she said.

Martinez, who is a U.S. citizen, said, "unfortunately many people's perception of what an undocumented immigrant looks like is like me: Hispanic. How do I know that I'm not going to be either targeted or looked at differently as a citizen based only on my skin color?" she asked.

Farming interests in Colorado estimate that about 40 percent of migrant workers have left the state in response to the new laws.

"There's a lot of uncertainty about how these new laws that took effect in January 2007 will have an impact on the agriculture situation," Martinez added. "We're just getting into Spring and the planting season is only about to begin at the beginning of April. Even last year, there were several farmers that were not able to pick up produce from their fields: and we're talking about hundreds of acres."

Colorado officials are considering using prison labor to work in the fields if too few migrant workers can be recruited.

Julien Ross of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition believes problems in Colorado and other Western states are intractable without "comprehensive immigration reform" from Washington.

"The new Governor of Colorado doesn't want to touch immigration," he said. "So the best way to address mistakes made last year is for the federal government to fix our broken immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform will make SB90 and other laws obsolete."

Copyright © 2007

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