Thousands march for immigrant rights

By LISA LUINENBURG

On Oct. 5, thousands of immigrants in 40 states marched in support of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that has been sitting stagnant in Congress since this spring. The marches were part of a National Day of Dignity and Respect, which was endorsed by religious groups, NGO-type groups such as Presente.org and the ACLU, and many of the big unions, such as SEIU, the AFL-CIO, UFCW, AFSCME, and UNITE HERE.

The actions culminated in a march on the national mall in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, during which 200 people, including several Democratic politicians, were arrested for civil disobedience.

Legalization is desperately needed for the 11 million undocumented workers currently living in the United States. Despite Obama’s promise to pass immigration reform legislation, over 1100 people are being deported every day, even during the partial government shutdown. Immigrants are daily being pulled over, jailed, and deported by racist cops, and undocumented workers endure exploitation, abuse, and the lowest wages in the country.

And yet, the “immigration reform” being offered by the Democrats and the reformist leadership of the trade unions doesn’t offer a real solution to the crisis being faced by undocumented immigrants. Instead, it offers more of the same—millions of dollars to increase the militarization of the border, a mandatory biometric E-verify system that would be implemented nationwide, and an expanded Bracero-style guestworker system.

And the “pathway to citizenship” being offered to undocumented immigrants is so long, so expensive, and so difficult to comply with that it has been estimated that 4-5 million immigrants will not qualify for any kind of legal status. In short, the system being proposed ensures a legalized exploitation of the undocumented workers who will be given a temporary status, while life becomes even more difficult for everyone else who gets left “in the shadows” because they can’t meet income standards or pay thousands of dollars in fines.

So why are immigrants supporting the reform bill by the thousands? The answer is evident in the tone of the protests. In Minneapolis, where over a thousand marched in the streets on Oct. 5, the speaker’s stage was dominated not by local immigrant leaders who fight deportations in their communities or organize immigrant workers to fight for better pay, but by religious groups, the Chamber of Commerce, and the AFL-CIO.

When you speak with immigrants about immigration reform, it becomes clear that many don’t understand what the comprehensive immigration reform bill would really mean for them and how it would affect their lives. What they hear every day is the misinformation provided by their churches, their unions, and the Spanish-language media. Faced by a lack of independent community leadership, they tend to follow the reformist voices that are now dominating the movement, acting on a desperate need for change.

It is clear by the thousands of people who marched in the streets that immigrants want an end to the deportations, to the separation of their families, and their exploitation at work. They have shown in the past that they have the power to demand that change. The challenge in the coming months will be in educating immigrants about what the proposed legislation actually contains, and then building an independent movement in the streets to demand an end to the deportations and unconditional legalization for all—a legalization without chains.

Photo: Minnesota Public Radio