Since 2006, immigration reform activists in the United States have joined together on May Day, International Workers’ Day, to demand recognition for the nation’s more than 10 million undocumented immigrants. This year the events took on even greater urgency in response to a series of laws passed in Arizona that have set a new standard for the targeting of immigrant communities. The actions included a peaceful sit-down at the White House that saw 35 arrests, including active Democratic Congressman Luis Gutiï¿½rrez from Chicago. They are demanding comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for the millions living in the U.S. without documents today. They have committed to continuing civil disobedience, boycotting the state of Arizona, and staying home from the polls to punish Democrats who don’t act now.
Produced by Jesse Freeston.
JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Saturday, May 1, four youths from Miami, Florida, set out on the last leg of their 1,500 mile walk to Washington, DC, crossing the Arlington Bridge that connects Virginia to the nation’s capital. Their mission? To put the plight of the US’s undocumented immigrants on the government’s agenda. Carlos Roa is one of the marchers.
CARLOS ROA: President Obama, we need [inaudible] deportations to end immediately. We need the student deportations to end. We need the separation of families to end. And you have the power to do so.
FREESTON: Deportations have gone up under the Obama administration, with more than 300,000 people deported in the past year alone. When Roa and his companions left Miami on January 1, they had no idea that SB1070 would be passed into law in Arizona before their arrival in DCï¿½a law that requires police to demand documents from anybody reasonably suspected to be there illegally, with a first-time punishment of up to six months in jail. All four of the marching youths are without documents, despite having spent almost their entire lives in the United States.
ROA: For too long have our families suffered because of the broken immigration systems. We continue to have our humanity denied by not being able to have Social Security, not being able to work legally, not being able to drive, having limited access to higher education. And with laws such as SB1070 from Arizona, anti-immigrant laws, it has become evident that this is a racially motivated issue.
ROSA MENDOZA, IMMIGRATION REFORM ACTIVIST: What is “reasonable suspicion”? There is no way. You cannot know that. Who looks like a citizen and who doesn’t? Who looks like an American and who doesn’t? This is a country of immigrants. It’s a diverse country. So how are you going to know who’s American and who’s not? As far as I’m concerned, I’m American. My family has been in California before white people came from Europe.
FREESTON: Rosa Mendoza was one of the thousands who rallied in front of the White House to demand the president take the lead on immigration reform.
MENDOZA: Let’s not forget history. All the states in the south were part of Mexico. So when they complain that there’s too many Mexicans in Texas and Arizona and California, well, guess what? There should be too many Mexicans in Texas and California and Arizona and all those places.
FREESTON: Thirty-five of the protesters sat down in front of the White House fence, where they were eventually arrested. This included Congressman Luis Gutiï¿½rrez of Chicago, who has been heavily critical of the president’s inaction on these issues.
REP. LUIS GUTIï¿½RREZ (D-IL): ï¿½is that the action that we take today will not end today. It will be followed tomorrow and the next week and the next month, until comprehensive immigration reform is signed into law.
FREESTON: On this day, people rallied in more than 50 cities, including reports of more than 60,000 marchers in Los Angeles alone. Back in DC, Lucy Solï¿½s-Carmona organized some of her classmates to come with her to the White House on Saturday.
LUCY SOLï¿½S-CARMONA, STUDENT ORGANIZER: ï¿½because we don’t want families to get separated, and we want to have the opportunity to go to college. Like, just ’cause we’re Latin, we’re Spanish, doesn’t means that we don’t have the opportunity to go to colleges.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): People who aren’t legal have to pay four times more for college than an American citizen or a resident, as if they were foreigners who came here to study.
DEMONSTRATORS: Education, not deportation! Education, not deportation!
FREESTON: One piece of legislation being supported at the rally is called the Dream Act. DC immigration lawyer Arturo Viscarra explains the details.
ARTURO VISCARRA, IMMIGRATION LAWYER: Students, high school students that came here when they were with their parents, undocumented, but who have grown up mostly in the United States and feel very much like as they were citizens, don’t have any of the culture of their country of origin, and allows them to have in-state tuition, to go to college and qualify for the same type of benefits that any other student would have.
FREESTON: And while Arizona was on everybody’s mind, Viscarra pointed out the existence of similarly discriminatory federal programs that haven’t gotten the same kind of exposure, such as the Secure Communities program.
VISCARRA: Immigration and Customs Enforcement signs agreements with local law enforcement agencies for them to forward the fingerprints of anybody who’s arrestedï¿½so this is pre-convictionï¿½and have those fingerprints forwarded to ICE to check on the immigration status of those arrested. So it’s very intrusive. It creates a lot of distrust between immigrants [inaudible] Latino communities and the police.
FREESTON: The rallies share the date of May 1 with International Workers Day, a recognition of the four anarchist union leaders executed in Chicago in 1886 during the fight for the eight-hour workday. DC-based journalist Carlos Quiroz, who runs the Carlos in DC and Peruanista blogs, explained the connection.
CARLOS QUIROZ, INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST: In most of the world, especially in Latin America, in May 1 we celebrate the International Workers Day. It’s a day when we recognize the effort of everyone, especially working-class people. And as you can see, most of the undocumented immigrants are coming to this country in order to find jobs, in order to work. It’s not like people come here just to find a more comfortable life, because most of the cases it’s not more comfortable. It’s a very sacrificing way of living, and people do it because they want to work to improve their lives and their families’. So today is a day to honor that effort and the values of trying to find a job to improve their lives, to help their children. Those are values that people should appreciate instead of persecuting these immigrants. We work, we live here, we have families here, we have friends. This is home for millions of people. So the only thing that people don’t have is a document that tells that they actually officially belong to this country. But in reality, most undocumented immigrants are part of this nation already. It’s just that the US government and interest groups don’t want to accept the fact.
FREESTON: While the demands of immigration reform, fair education, and an end to deportations have been around for years, the recent developments in Arizona were on everybody’s mind.
MENDOZA: I don’t want nobody to visit Arizona, nobody to buy anything that has to do with Arizona. I want the people that live in Arizona to not buy anything if they don’t need it. You don’t need to go shopping, don’t go shopping. We need to show them the power we have.
FREESTON: The call for a boycott has come from city governments like Los Angeles and San Francisco, the federal government of Mexico, and even Arizona’s own congressmen, Raï¿½l Grijalva.
RAï¿½L GRIJALVA (D-AZ): We are asking organizations, civic, religious, labor, Latino, organizations of color, to refrain from using Arizona as a convention site, to refrain from spending their dollars in the state of Arizona, until Arizona turns the clock forward instead of backwards.
MENDOZA: The governor of Arizona doesn’t care about our human rights. Let’s hit you where it’s probably going to hurt you, in your wallet, ’cause clearly the fact that our community is being harassed, abused, clearly that doesn’t faze her, clearly she doesn’t care about that. So let’s see if she at least cares about the money.
FREESTON: Sportswriter for The Nation and author of A People’s History of Sports Dave Zirin has pushed the boycott even further.
DAVE ZIRIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I wrote an article saying that we should be protesting the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team wherever they go. And I propose that for two reasons. One, because the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks is a gentleman by the name of Ken Kendrick, and he is one of the grand underwriters of the state Republican Party in Arizona. That’s one reason. The second reason is because I thought with the Diamondbacks traveling, they could actually become a symbol and really be the traveling road show of SB1070, so people in Chicago who are upset about the Arizona law have a place to go and protest. Wrigley Fieldï¿½there was a big protest this past week at Wrigley Field. And Ken Kendrick has since put out a statement through his people that he actually opposes SB1070. That’s his way of trying to stop the protests. But let me tell you something: I think the protests should go on until Ken Kendrick gets in front of a microphone and says, “I will not give one more dollar to the Arizona state Republican Party until SB1070 is repealed.” Until that moment, it’s all just talk.
FREESTON: Sports boycotts have a long history of success, including in the state of Arizona.
ZIRIN: Because in 1992, when they said they would not be recognizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday, the National Football League, not exactly a radical organization by any means, pulled the Super Bowl out of Phoenix, and they kept it out until the people of Arizona in a referendum actually voted to overturn the banning of Martin Luther King Day.
FREESTON: At that time, the state also came under a cultural attack, such as hip hop group Public Enemy’s 1991 hit “By the Time I Get to Arizona”. Almost 20 years later, Zirin believes the Martin Luther King Day example is instructive.
ZIRIN: ï¿½because the major league baseball all-star game is going to be in Phoenix in 2011. So we’ve got to keep the pressure up and make sure that Arizona basically becomes a pariah state until SB1070 is overturned.
FREESTON: Even in Arizona, it’s not only SB1070. The state legislature has just passed a law allowing for the firing of schoolteachers for having heavy accents, as well as a law that bans state funding for ethnic studies programs. Meanwhile, at least seven other states are currently developing variations of Arizona’s SB1070.
ZIRIN: This isn’t like the sort of thing where the options are either SB1070 or nothing. If nothing continues to be the option, SB1070 will become law in state after state after state. So the only option other than SB1070 is Obama and his people getting a little bit of courage and standing up for immigrant rights, but they’re not going to do it unless we force them to do it through protest and grassroots action.
FREESTON: Marchers were quick to remind President Obama that he promised immigration reform in his campaign. They also reminded that should he and the Democrats not get the courage to do something about the problem, people across the country are preparing to make them pay.
DEMONSTRATORS: No reforms, no re-election!
END OF TRANSCRIPT
Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.