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ISR Issue 47, May–June 2006

Out from the shadows, into the streets

The New immigrant civil rights movement


“YOU’VE KICKED a sleeping giant.” Perhaps no other sign from the million-strong march for immigrant rights that shook Los Angeles on March 25 conveys a more precise summation of events unfolding across the country. A new civil rights movement for immigrants has emerged that has spawned demonstrations involving literally millions of people in cities throughout the United States that is now entering its third month.

With a sudden gale force, the debate over immigration politics, historically the domain of big business and the far Right, has been blown wide open, its contents scattering into the daily discussions of ordinary people. Largely self-organized and self-mobilized, the new movement has drawn out the most affected communities, who are far ahead of the existing organizations that have historically claimed leadership in the immigrant communities. This new movement, led by immigrant workers and Latino students, is now beating on the walls of Congress and putting forth its own solution to the immigration crisis: Give us equality. Homemade signs at protests from San Diego to the Brooklyn Bridge, reading, “We are not criminals” and “Amnistía sí” (Amnesty yes) reveal the depths of indignation, the willingness to come out of the shadows, and the desire to stand up and be seen and heard.

The groundswell was brought to the surface in reaction to the passage in the House of the draconian HR4437 (also known as the Sensenbrenner bill), that if passed by the Senate would make immigrants and even those who help them, felons. This movement has forced the proponents of the bill, who hitherto had been able to set the tone for the debate over so-called immigration reform, onto the defensive. It has redrawn the parameters of the debate—previously restricted to criminalization on one side and partial legalization combined with a guest-worker program on the other. The movement has exposed a new axis: the struggle of ordinary workers and their families to be treated equally, as human beings, and as workers with full rights. A sixth grader protesting with 100,000 others on April 9 in San Diego expressed the mood succinctly: “At school the rich teach us about their democracy. Here, we show them ours.”

Previous threads

In large part, the first demonstrations were a spontaneous outpouring of anger, drawing in primarily young people and workers, and were not initiated by the labor movement. Nevertheless, these protests can partially trace their origin from previous threads of organizing involving the unions. The two most significant organizing efforts were the AFL-CIO’s Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides of 2003, as well as the anti-Minuteman, counter-protest movement that began in the summer of 2005.

After a long history of opposing immigration (and the rights of immigrant workers) the AFL-CIO reversed its position in 1999, calling for a general amnesty and the right of all workers—documented or not—to form unions.1 To back up its new policy, the AFL-CIO held a series of mass rallies—in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta—for immigrant rights. The largest, held in June 2000 in Los Angeles, drew 20,000 people. Immigrant workers testified about how employers threatened to fire or deport them when they tried to organize. “Looking for a better future for our families is not illegal,” said Seattle construction worker José Angel Juarez at the Los Angeles rally. Workers chanted, “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!” (We’re here to stay, and we’re not leaving!) “Time after time,” said AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson at the Los Angeles rally, “we see employers try to divide us from our sisters and brothers. They try to pit immigrants against non-immigrants, documented against undocumented, and try to drive down the wages and working conditions of all.”2

The pro-immigrant shift inspired the Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides in 2003. Building on the legacy of the civil rights movement, the AFL-CIO, civil rights groups, and networks of rank-and-file workers organized a mass cross-country trek to demand amnesty and civil rights for the twelve million undocumented people in the United States.3 This trajectory of consciousness and struggle continued for many of the immigrant worker participants, even as the AFL-CIO retreated on the question in the lead up to the 2004 elections.

Active opposition to the Minutemen began to take shape in 2005, when a fledgling immigrant rights movement took to the streets to confront and challenge the border vigilantes. Small groups of activists organized counter-protests in the rural border regions and the Latino communities increasingly targeted by vigilante formations. As pro-immigrant activist Yasser Giron, explained in the summer of 2005,

It’s important to realize that violent racism grows precisely when it goes unopposed. The point of confronting groups like the Minutemen and resisting politicians’ attacks is to show them for what they are. They receive political cover from both Democrats and Republicans and have been trying to appear legitimate. They need to be confronted now.4

A network of activists emerged across the Southwest, dedicated to opposing the actions of the Minutemen and other anti-immigrant protest movements. In July 2005, 40,000 came out to Chicago’s south side to challenge the Illinois Minutemen. Organized through local grassroots organizations, churches, and Spanish language radio stations (who have come to play a central role in mobilizing the new movement), the unexpectedly large turnout reflected the emerging class consciousness and fighting mood that has been pent-up inside the working class for years. A common sentiment was expressed by the protest sign, “We want recognition as workers: we are not terrorists.”5

The new movement

House approval of the reactionary Sensenbrenner bill (see “War on immigrant workers” in this issue)—whose passage would turn twelve million undocumented immigrants and anyone who aids them into felons—gave impetus to the fledgling movement, pushing millions into opposition, flocking to protests called by small groups. Since no national structure existed that appeared capable of giving expression to such an outpouring, few were prepared for the size of the protests. In a flash, the masses had moved into motion, primarily in opposition to the Sensenbrenner bill, but the fightback has also raised the possibility for more far-reaching social change.

Following a mass protest of 20,000 in Washington, D.C., at least 300,000 took to the streets of Chicago on March 10, 2006. The largest protest in Chicago history shut down the city, as workers walked off jobs, out of schools, and into the human streams that jammed several city blocks downtown. Entire families marched together, and the vast majority had clearly never been to a protest in their lives. “Middle-aged working-class men, young mothers pushing baby carriages, teens, retirees—every generation was represented” on the march.6

After Chicago, the dam broke. Mass protests of immigrant workers took place in more than fifty cities within two weeks. About 150,000 crowded onto Denver’s streets, 50,000 marched through the streets of Phoenix, and over 30,000 took to the streets in Milwaukee. In Atlanta, more than 80,000 heeded a call to not go to work. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, 5,000 came out to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, 15,000 marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, 3,000 took to the streets of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and thousands more clogged the downtowns in a constellation of other cities and towns across the country. The turnout reached new heights in Los Angeles, where over one million people transformed the downtown area into a human sea.

The March protests also spread to student actions. Sons and daughters of the Latino working class shut down schools across the country in protest of anti-immigrant racism. In California, tens of thousands of students walked out of classes across the state. In Dallas, 4,000 walked out of school, another 2,000 in El Paso, 3,000 in Las Vegas, and 1,000 in Aurora, Illinois. In Tucson, 1,000 middle school students walked out of their schools, showing that even many young teens are keenly aware of what’s at stake, and are making their voices heard.7

Union organizations also began to get on board, joining with the National Council of La Raza and other civic and religious organizations calling for a day of protest on April 10. Half a million came out in Dallas, 100,000 in San Diego, and 20,000 in Salt Lake City on April 9. Protests also sprouted in smaller towns. Three thousand people converged on the small agricultural community of Garden City, Kansas. Thousands more turned out in South Bend, Indiana; Portland, Maine; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Lake Worth, Florida.

On April 10, protests were held in ninety-four cities. Half a million came out in New York City, 30,000 in Boston, and 10,000 in Madison, Wisconsin. More than 50,000 came out in Atlanta and in Phoenix, and 10,000 protested in Boston and Omaha.
As we go to press, massive protests are planned for Monday, May 1, in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities, in what will effectively be a workplace walkout for its participants on May Day, an international workers’ holiday that is usually celebrated in countries only outside the United States. The protest initiators, the National Immigrant Solidarity Network (NISN), have put out a call that is to the left of the more liberal April 10 protest organizers. Calling May 1 “El gran paro Americano” (The great American boycott) and “Un dia sin immigrante” (A day without an immigrant), organizers of the day of action are calling on all immigrants to stay away from work and school, close their businesses, refrain from buying and selling, and hold rallies at symbolic economic centers. The NISN call to action explicitly rejects any bill in Congress that increases border enforcement or fails to grant full amnesty:

We will settle for nothing less than full amnesty and dignity for the millions of undocumented workers presently in the U.S. We believe that increased enforcement is a step in the wrong direction and will only serve to facilitate more tragedies along the Mexican-U.S. border in terms of deaths and family separation.8

In a matter of weeks, the immigrant working class in the United States has made history. The movement is not only influencing the debate in Washington, but it shows the potential to transform the fight from a defensive one, to one that pushes the whole working class forward. Immigrants are moving beyond the limits, compromises, and backroom deals being negotiated by the Republican and Democratic Parties and their liberal auxiliaries.

A bipartisan plan

The new civil rights movement has practically killed the Sensenbrenner bill and thrown the GOP, already suffering from corruption scandals and an unpopular war in Iraq, into further disarray. In the most recent flurry of legislative activity around the attempt to pass an immigration bill, Democratic Party leaders proved willing to accept a bill to the right of the McCain-Kennedy guest-worker bill. In eleventh-hour negotiations, Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist worked feverishly to forge a compromise between McCain-Kennedy and HR4437 before the April 7 congressional recess.

The Democrats sought to conclude the deal from a position of strength, delivering to Corporate America its guest-worker program while taking credit for the defeat of the Sensenbrenner bill. As Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama explained, “The biggest concern on the part of the Democrats is how do we preserve this compromise all the way through the process?”9

Another bill, Hagel-Martinez, never came to a vote, and Congress recessed for spring break in utter disarray. But the provisions of the bill, which are likely to be reintroduced in one form or another when Congress returns, are revealing. Calling for hiring 15,000 more immigration agents, it divides undocumented immigrants into three categories, according to the Washington Post: “Those in the country five years or longer would begin a route to citizenship if they learned English and paid taxes and fines. Those in the country two to four years could apply for legal status after returning to a border crossing for document processing. The others would be subject to deportation.”10 No doubt, if this bill ever passes, immigrants in the two- to four-year category will be more than reluctant to show up at border crossings to play roulette with their status.

According to the Post, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) expressed dissatisfaction that Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (R.–Nev.) killed the vote by his willingness to allow only three of the twenty right-wing amendments to the bill:

Yesterday’s stalemate was especially disappointing to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who have worked for years on immigration matters. Kennedy had urged Reid to seek a compromise on the dispute over amendments, sources said, but he did not publicly criticize his party’s leader afterward.11

As with other political questions in Washington, the Democrats have allowed the Republican Right to set the terms of the immigration debate. When the Right screams “amnesty,” the liberals bend over backwards to show that they are not in favor of it. When the Right cries about leaky borders, the liberals ensure them that they’ll be even tougher on border security, and so on. Virtually every bill so far that has been presented as an alternative to HR4437, whether it’s the McCain-Kennedy bill or Hagel-Martinez, are variants of this theme.

Though the most right-wing congressmen may moan about not getting HR4437 through, it is clear that many Republican lawmakers feared that passing this draconian law might hurt their electoral standing. Hence the willingness of Frist and others to try and find a bill that straddles HR4437 and the bipartisan Kennedy-McCain bill backed by many Democrats. But the hard Right might still scuttle any agreement, and the debate may become more polarized as conservative demagogues continue to press for their own legislation. The Republican Party is now hopelessly split, unable to straddle two contradictory constituencies: their right-wing base, and their capitalist masters. In addition, many Republicans have Latino constituencies that will not accept Sensenbrenner.

But the Democrats have hardly been sterling on this question. Their main concern in this debate has been to demonstrate, in accepting a compromise, that they are capable of governing the country “responsibly.” As one Washington Post writer noted, “Collapse of vital budget legislation and a big setback on an immigration overhaul have played into Democrats’ election-year plans to paint Republicans as too incompetent to run the U.S. Congress.”12

What has been most striking about the debate over immigration leading up to the mass protests is that the mainstream of both parties have shown support for two things: beefing up the border as part of the national security strategy and finding a way to restrict immigration while ensuring a cheap labor supply for the employers through some kind of guest-worker program. And for every Democrat who has stood at the front of a protest proclaiming their undying support for immigrants, there is another raising the alarm about chaos at the border.

Why do they want a guest-worker program?

The guest-worker program is the policy of the mainstream of both parties for the simple reason that this is the plan of the employers, and both parties are beholden most of all to big business. There are two reasons why a guest-worker program is emerging as the bipartisan consensus in Washington. Guest-worker programs, by their very nature create a second class of workers in the United States. This would allow the means to lower wages and set lower industry standards across the board. Second, guest workers can be used to weaken unions and prevent union organizing.

While such plans refer to migrant workers benevolently as “guests,” this method of labor importation is more accurately constructed as a means to increase the ranks of “non-citizen labor.” While promoted as a temporary program, it will in fact become a permanent mechanism for increasing the percentage of disenfranchised labor in key industries over time.

Current proposals allow workers to remain in the country for a limited duration, after which they must leave the country or compete for a scarce number of visas. While in this country, guest workers do not have the rights afforded to other workers. They are not allowed to collectively bargain, join unions, speak out against exploitative bosses, and can only leave an oppressive job if they have another already lined up. Most workers will remain in the country, further consolidating a second class of labor.

This is why Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers could only build the historic farm worker struggle after securing the abolition of the last guest-worker program (the Bracero Program) in 1964. Under the conditions of the Bracero Program, growers were able to turn agriculture into a $40 billion-a-year industry, keeping out unions and setting the standard for low wages across all industries. The legacy, according to a study in the Sacramento Bee, is that many farm workers make no more than $4,000 a year, kept poor by a combination of low wages and the deprivation of basic human rights.13

The guest-worker proposals are designed to prevent or reduce unionism in industries beyond agriculture. Current proposals, embraced by a host of corporate interests, would allow guest workers to be used in construction, meatpacking, hotels and restaurants, manufacturing, transportation, health care, and others.

But there is another side to this picture. It is within these industries that immigrant workers have played a key role revitalizing the union movement in the last two decades. While union membership has been declining over the last three decades, immigrant workers have become a union growth engine. According to a study by the Migrant Policy Institute, 11 percent of the 17.7 million foreign-born workers in the U.S. are represented by unions, despite difficulties associated with citizenship. Reflecting changing attitudes in the unions and militancy among the workers themselves, the number of immigrants in unions grew by 23 percent between 1996 and 2003. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with members primarily in property services, health care, and the public sector, has become the largest and fastest growing labor union in the U.S., claiming a membership of 1.8 million. Immigrant workers account for two-thirds of that figure.

A new guest-worker program would be used to try and halt union growth in those sectors and trigger its gradual erosion, since braceros could be used as leverage against union drives and contract negotiations. A new guest-worker program would create a vast segregated workforce, controlled and exploited by big business, and set the workers’ movement back to the days before Cesar Chavez and the farm workers’ movement.

Debates within the movement

Democratic Party politicians and liberal organizations with affiliations to the Democratic Party are racing to place themselves at the head of the new immigrant rights movement. Their aim is to make sure the “messaging” dovetails with the current legislative proposals of the Democrats, which is in fact now bipartisan legislation. Notably, this is the first time in years that the Democratic Party has been compelled to play its traditional role, to put itself at the head of oppositional social movements in order to keep them confined to actions and proposals acceptable to the U.S. ruling class.

Prior to the protests, the Democrats framed their position on immigration in fairly conservative terms, emphasizing a commitment to policing the border and controlling immigration. In response to the protests, they have shifted their rhetoric substantially—for example, Senator Kennedy’s April 10 speech at the Washington immigrant rights protest offered the predictable sound bytes about the U.S. being a “nation of immigrants.” But his goal—some version of a guest-worker program for employers, a “path” to citizenship for certain carefully defined groups, and stricter border enforcement—remains the same. Democrats are particularly keen to translate the large turnouts in the streets into votes for their candidates in the 2006 congressional elections.

As the immigrant working class is shifting the debate to the left, towards amnesty and equality, liberals have, as on so many other issues, moved to the right on the question of immigration, opposing the idea of an amnesty, the extension of civil rights, and the democratization of labor. As opposed to calling for a general amnesty, they argue for gradual, partial legalization. At every step, liberal leaders caution the movement not to step too far—don’t carry Mexican or Dominican flags, only American flags; don’t mention amnesty, only “earned citizenship,” and so on.

Activists across the country must figure out how to raise the demand of amnesty within the movement as a means to project this to the whole working class. After some organizers were prohibited from using the word “amnesty” (so as not to frighten the Democratic Party speakers on the stage), activists at the April 9 San Diego protest organized their own rally and feeder march under the banner “Amnesty Now” and the slogan, “the voice of the workers won’t be silenced.” This allowed activists to take their message to the mass of workers in the march, even if they were undemocratically silenced from the front. Several local Democrats who spoke at the rally delivered appeals for the protests to end, and for protesters to instead register people to take back Congress in November. Yet lots of protesters brought homemade signs raising amnesty and other slogans well to the left of the official speakers.

Why we need a general amnesty

The most striking feature of the immigration question is the fact that capital is free to move across borders, but labor is not. Any legislation in Congress that fails to move toward freer borders, that is, any legislation that increases border militarization, strengthens repression, and contains provisions for deportation of immigrants, is not acceptable. The best response to the far Right’s demands for mass deportation and imprisonment on the one side, and the employers’ demand for strict border enforcement plus braceros on the other, is for the movement to demand amnesty.

An amnesty is a provision that allows for the immediate legalization of the undocumented, offering a guaranteed path to citizenship. Unlike the current proposals, which use deceptive language about “earned citizenship” or a “path to citizenship” to mask various obstacles to citizenship—and which exclude the majority from the means to obtain permanent residency—amnesty equalizes immigrants with the rest of the working class. It would amount to a democratization of labor that is the most threatening to corporate interests and those who want to criminalize immigrants.

The last amnesty, which resulted from the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, led to legalization and citizenship for about 2.8 million immigrant workers. This was the culmination of a couple of factors. First, the opposition of the labor movement, led by the United Farm Workers, to the Bracero Program. This ended the use of guest-worker programs in agriculture, considered by the unions as a means to segregate workers in order to lower wages and prevent unionization. Unions like the International Ladies Garment Workers Union that merged with another garment union to form UNITE in 1995, which had begun to organize undocumented workers in the years prior, began to shift opinions within the movement towards the potential of organizing the undocumented. Amnesty became the only acceptable means to guarantee workers’ rights, since their freedom from retribution by immigration authorities was a precondition for maintaining a viable union. Nevertheless, this proved contradictory and self-limiting, since the AFL-CIO at that time officially supported immigration restrictions.
Second, Latino and church organizations had played a significant role in advocating for migrant workers. Social justice organizations tied to the church, for instance, had formed the “sanctuary movement,” which aided and sheltered undocumented refugees from Central America during the civil wars there. This facilitated the rise of border human rights networks that advocated for migrant crossers.

At odds with this trajectory was a growing chorus of right-wing forces opposed to any integration of the undocumented population. Conservative organizations like the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform and Conservatives for Immigration Reform emerged from the New Right of the 1970s as a single-issue campaign to oppose the expansion of civil rights to undocumented Mexican workers.

These well-funded middle-class organizations garnered substantial funding from conservative groups eager to halt the further extension of the civil rights movement. They also gained legitimacy in the mainstream media; to this day some of them serve as anti-immigration media pundits. Their support also extended to far-sighted sections of big business eager to segment and divide the new working class. These forces provided a pseudo-scientific counter to unions and human rights organizations seeking to humanize migrants and build solidarity; and helped forge the new language of immigration, turning away from use of the term “illegal” to use of the term “reform” to describe restriction and criminalization.

The clash of these forces culminated in IRCA. In 1982, Democratic Congressman Romano Mazzoli united with Republican Senator Alan Simpson to propose the Mazzoli-Simpson bill. This bill, which after several modifications became IRCA, introduced an amnesty for undocumented workers in exchange for the introduction of employer sanctions, re-introduction of a limited bracero plan in agriculture, and the increased militarization of the border. In other words, the bill traded limited amnesty for the expansion of criminalization.14

Because the labor movement and liberal organizations accepted the right-wing’s premise of “securing borders” and “controlling immigration,” the compromise set the stage for a further crackdown on migrant crossers. Nevertheless, limited amnesty also set the stage for new organizing drives that built unions like the SEIU, UNITE-HERE, and others. While other unions were pushed on the defensive, immigrant worker-led union drives, demonstrated that they were willing to fight. This led the AFL-CIO to support the organizing of immigrants, including the undocumented, and the growing demand among the workers themselves for a new amnesty. This is the demand now emanating from the streets that is sending chills across Corporate America. Unfortunately, the 1986 bill also began the massive militarization of the border. This time around, the new movement must also resist any compromising logic that legitimizes criminalization or border militarization.

If undocumented workers were given equal rights, it would abolish the legal segregation that serves as the means to exploit powerless workers. It would also undermine the racism that is used to justify a militarized border that amounts to a death sentence for those crossing in order to find work. It would give a voice to the voiceless and increase the number of voters who could have recourse against the politicians trying to build careers by scapegoating immigrants. It would allow children to be raised in a society that doesn’t victimize them by the racism and exclusion that are attached to the dehumanizing “illegal” stigma.

Equal rights for immigrants would also help revitalize a labor movement in crisis, as immigrant workers are offering the best hope for all workers in this country. As the workers’ movement awakens, the working class must put forth its own demand: a general amnesty without criminalization or any increase in border militarization. Unlike in 1986, there is a mass movement of workers to back it up. This the only way to ensure equality and to pave the way for the complete decriminalization of migration and the removal of the shameful border walls that serve as outdated monuments to racism.

These demands flow from the very experiences of immigrant workers who risk death crossing the border and face segregation once in the country. As Los Angeles marcher Maria Gonzalez commented as she considered the masses around her, “With this many people, we should demand legalization and amnesty.”15
The effects of the mass protests are also having an impact on public opinion. A recent AP-Ipsos survey showed that 56 percent of the population support the idea of letting undocumented workers remain in the country. This shows how a new civil rights movement can challenge the lies and racism that are designed to poison public opinion by a largely compliant media.16

Power concedes nothing without a demand

The mass sentiment from below pushes beyond the limited alternatives on offer from Washington. Though many, new to struggle and uncertain of what their power is capable of, may be willing at first to accept anything so long as it is not HR4437, they are also open to an argument as to why our movement cannot settle for any of the other bills currently on offer. Try as the Republican Right may to tarnish the word “amnesty,” and however much the liberal organizations might strain to avoid the term so as not to “alienate people,” the chant for amnesty is a popular one. But there are forces—principally the Democrats and some of the liberal immigrant rights organizations—that are attempting to corral the movement into settling for a lot less. At most of the protests, liberal Democrats have put themselves at the front, urging people to support the latest bipartisan legislation that rejects the worst aspects of HR4437, but contains provisions that cannot be remotely considered “pro-immigrant.”

Representative of many of the liberal immigrant rights organizations, Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, expressed disappointment that the Frist-Reid compromise legislation failed to pass, and looked forward to the demonstrations to put pressure on Congress to pass it. “We needed a bill,” he complained, “and we got a food fight.” But as AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in denouncing the failed Frist-Reid compromise rightly remarked,

The compromise “tears at the heart of true reform and will drive millions of hard-working immigrants further into the shadows of American society, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation,” Sweeney declared. “By dividing immigrants already here into three different classifications, the…proposal will create an undemocratic, three-tiered society that degrades and marginalizes millions of immigrant families in our communities while driving down wage and benefits standards for everyone.”17

It should be clear that, in mobilizing to defeat the worst bill, our movement cannot accept bad substitutes fobbed off as genuine alternatives.

As the ISR goes to press, organizers are gearing up for another series of demonstrations on May 1, the traditional day of working-class internationalism. Mass outpourings are expected again in Chicago and Los Angeles. The demands of the protests are:

• Immediate legalization for all undocumented immigrants;
• No border walls;
• No criminalization of undocumented workers;
• Protection of workers’ rights for immigrants. Workers rights are civil rights.

One of the protest’s organizers, Los Angeles immigrant rights leader Nativo Lopez, remarked at a national teleconference organizing meeting in early April, “The offer of various tiers is a concession, but we don’t accept stratified castes, or the deportation of some of our people. We want full unconditional legalization. Our people have earned it.”

Only when the politicians are confronted by a mass movement of workers and students, backed by protests, strikes, walkouts, and other forms of direct political action, and one that doesn’t concede leadership to liberal power brokers, will they reluctantly accept our demands. That is why we must continue to build the immigrant rights movement independent of the Democratic Party and of the bipartisan legislative proposals that serve Corporate America. We must continue to organize and mobilize where we have the most power: in the workplaces, schools, and communities.

Justin Akers Chacón, a member of the International Socialist Organization in San Diego, is active in antiwar, cross-border solidarity, and immigrant rights work. He is the author, with Mike Davis, of the forthcoming No One is Illegal (Haymarket Books, 2006). He is also the author of “Vigilantes at the border,” (ISR 43, September–October 2005), “Farmworkers in the U.S.” (ISR 34, March–April 2004), and “Operation Gatekeeper: Militarizing the border” (ISR 18, June–July 2001).

1 Read the statement on the AFL-CIO’s Web site,
2 AFL-CIO, “20,000 mobilize for immigrant workers’ rights,”
3 Alan Maass, “Freedom Ride for Immigrant Rights,” Socialist Worker, October 3, 2003.
4 Bruce Cooley, “Protesters run over by bigots in LA,” Socialist Worker, June 3, 2005.
5 Elizabeth Lalasz. “40,000 march against Minutemen in Chicago,” Socialist Worker, July 22, 2005.
6 Lee Sustar, “We’re here and we’re not leaving,” Socialist Worker, March 17, 2006.
7 Alan Maass, “Week of the walkouts,” Socialist Worker, April 7, 2006.
8 See the May 1 protest Web Site,
9 Maura Reynolds, “Immigrant overhaul plan stalls in Senate,” LA Times, April 7, 2006.
10 Charles Babington and Shailagh Murray, “Immigration deal fails in Senate,” Washington Post, April 8, 2006.
11 Ibid.
12 Richard Cowan, “Republican woes in Congress boost Democratic hopes,” Reuters, April 9, 2006.
13 Stephen Magagnini, “Struggling in El Norte, Mixtec Indians seek a better life in the US,” Sacramento Bee, October 20, 2002.
14 For a full discussion of IRCA, see David Reimers, Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), Chapter 7.
15 Ty Coronado, Sarah Knopp, Katie Miller, and Avery Wear, “We want to be equal,” Socialist Worker March 31, 2006.
16 Nancy Benac, “Poll finds more than half open to allowing illegal immigrants to seek legal status,” Associated Press, April 2, 2006.
17 Mark Gruenberg, “Unionists lead mass protests for immigrant rights; AFL-CIO hits ‘appalling’ compromise,” Press Associates, Inc., April 7, 2006.
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