Between March 20 and 25, tens of thousands of immigrants demonstrated in cities and towns across the US to protest anti-immigrant legislation being considered by the Senate and to demand legalization for out-of-status immigrants. On March 20, some 1,200 immigrants and supporters rallied outside the statehouse in Trenton, NJ, to protest a proposal being considered by the US Congress which would apply tougher enforcement measures against out-of-status immigrants. Southern New Jersey coordinator Ramon Hernandez said more than 25 local businesses and farmers helped pay for buses to take people to the rally. (Home News Tribune Online, East Brunswick, March 21; Press of Atlantic City, March 21) On March 22, more than 200 immigrants and supporters marched in Providence, RI, to the office of Sen. Lincoln Chafee, asking him to support comprehensive immigration reform. (Eyewitnessnewstv.com, East Providence, March 22)
On March 23, thousands of immigrants and supporters flooded the streets of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a march for immigrant rights, part of what was billed as a “A Day Without Latinos.” Milwaukee police estimated the crowd at more than 10,000, but organizers said some 30,000 people took part. About 90 Latino-owned businesses on Milwaukee’s south side were closed for all or part of the day in support, according to Voces de la Frontera, which organized the demonstration. Nearly 100 staffers and teachers skipped work at the Milwaukee Technical College to attend the rally. About a dozen businesses in the nearby communities of Racine and Kenosha, south of Milwaukee, also closed, and several hundred people protested in downtown Racine.
The Milwaukee Common Council voted 11-1 the same morning to condemn the proposed punitive legislation and call on Congress to approve a reform bill that would allow immigrants to gain legal status. (Journal Sentinel Online, Milwaukee; AP, March 23) Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), sponsor of anti-immigrant bill HR 4437, which passed the House last Dec. 16, issued a statement criticizing the Milwaukee immigrant mobilization, while admitting it was “an impressive show of force.” (Sensenbrenner Statement on Milwaukee Rally, March 23)
Latino immigrant communities in the Atlanta, Georgia area took part in a “Day without Hispanics” civic strike on Mar. 24, a day after the Georgia House voted 123-51 to approve a state bill that would affect undocumented immigrants by denying state services, imposing a 5% surcharge on wire transfers, punishing employers and creating a worker verification program to be administered by the state Department of Labor. The legislation must still be approved by the state senate. (AP, March 23)
Teodoro Maus, one of the organizers of the protest, estimated that as many as 80,000 Latinos failed to show up for work. About 200 people rallied on the steps of the state capitol in Atlanta, some holding signs reading: “Don’t panic, we’re Hispanic” and “We have a dream, too.” (Arizona Republic, March 24)
Some 2,000 people rallied in Kansas City, Kansas, on March 24 to protest the anti-immigrant legislation being considered by the US Senate. (Kansas City Star, March 24)
In Phoenix on March 24, thousands of people marched to the office of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) to demand respect for immigrants. Phoenix police estimated the crowd at between 15,000 and 20,000 people; organizers had only expected about 3,000. The march filled a solid mile of 24th Street, shutting down the street and causing major traffic gridlock. “I’ve been involved in protests like this for nearly 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything this big,” said state representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix). A group of protesters delivered a letter to Kyl’s office. A smaller demonstration took place the same day in Tucson. (Arizona Republic, March 24; East Valley Tribune, March 25)
On March 21, over 50 hunger strikers representing as many community organizations began a seven-day protest in front of the federal building in San Francisco to call for a fair and just immigration reform. United Farm Workers of America co-founder Dolores Huerta spoke at a noon press conference kicking off the hunger strike, saying: “It’s time for a new legalization program.” Later in the day, nearly 400 community members marched from Dolores Park in the Mission District to the federal building to support the hunger strikers. The hunger strike is to end on March 27 with a community march to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office. Daily reports from the week of action are posted on www.immigrantrights.blogspot.com. (Contra Costa Times, March 22; “SF Hunger Strike Report: Day 1,” March 22)
California Students Walk Out
In the Los Angeles area on March 24, school district officials estimated that more than 2,700 students walked out of at least eight schools to protest anti-immigrant bills being considered by Congress. (New York Times, March 25) At least 500 students started the walkout at Huntington Park High School; some 300 students then walked to Bell High and 200 went to South Gate High. Those schools were locked down–meaning no one can come in or leave– before the protesters reached them, said Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) spokesperson Olga Quinones. At Bell, teacher Joan Dooley said hundreds of students climbed the gates to join the protesters in the streets. “Those kids had a right to walk out,” Dooley said. “When they saw this huge mob…they should have opened the gate.”
Students who were blocked from walking out at Bell, South Gate and San Fernando high schools protested on campus. Walkouts also took place at Garfield, Roosevelt and Montebello high schools. In Riverside County, 400 students at two campuses in the Moreno Valley Unified School District held rallies but did not leave school grounds, officials said. (Los Angeles Times, AP, March 25; 10News.com, San Diego, March 24) Another 1,500 students rallied in Evergreen Park in Boyle Heights for an hour after walking out of classes at Garfield, Montebello and Roosevelt high schools, according to LAUSD official Rafael Escobar. Some 73% of the 877,010 students in the LAUSD this year are Latino. (LAT, March 24)
In northern California, about 300 students at Ceres High School near Modesto–deep in the central valley east of San Francisco–staged a protest before school. Administrators allowed the demonstration for two class periods. “We felt it was valuable for them to experience democracy in action,” said Ceres Unified School District Superintendent Walt Hanline. “People need to understand this legislation is creating a lot of fear for people.” About 100 students refused to go to classes after the demonstration and were suspended for three days. Police cited eight for trespassing after they refused to go to a gym with the other suspended students. (AP, March 25)
Pro-immigrant groups are holding a massive demonstration in downtown Los Angeles on Mar. 25 to express their opposition to the bill. (10News.com, March 24) The march is being organized by several organizations, including the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), as part of a “Weekend of Action” against the Sensenbrenner bill and related legislation. (LAT, March 24, 25)
From Immigration News Briefs, March 25
See our last post on the immigrants’ rights struggle.