Thousands march for immigrants’ rights in Chicago, DC

Immigrants and supporters marched and rallied in Chicago on March 10 to demand legalization for out-of-status immigrants and oppose anti-immigrant legislation currently being considered by the Senate. Organizers estimated the crowd at 130,000, while Chicago police estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people took part, making it one of the biggest pro-immigrant demonstrations in US history, according to national advocates. The march was dominated by Mexican immigrants but also included Irish, Polish, Chinese and African-American participants. The protesters stepped off shortly after noon for a two-mile march to Federal Plaza, followed by a 2 PM rally; The march was so long that many participants had not yet reached the plaza when the rally ended at 4 PM. (Chicago Tribune; La Jornada, Mexico, March 11)

Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley were among the politicians who spoke at the rally in favor of immigrant rights, along with US Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a longtime advocate for immigrants. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, whole shifts of workers left their jobs in Chicago and the surrounding areas, and thousands of students walked out of class to attend the demonstration. At one school, Farragut Career Academy in Lawndale, about half the 2,500 students walked out en masse after attendance was taken at 10:40 AM. (CT, March 11)

Three days earlier, on March 7, tens of thousands of immigrants and supporters demonstrated in Washington, DC to urge the Senate to pass legislation providing out-of-status immigrants with a path to citizenship, and to reject the harsh anti-immigrant provisions in HR 4437, the bill sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) which passed the House of Representatives last Dec. 16. (Scripps Howard News Service, March 7) The rally was organized by the National Capital Immigration Coalition, which said the crowd was far larger than the predicted turnout of 20,000, with possibly as many as 40,000 participants. US Capitol Police estimated that the rally drew at least 5,000. (Washington Post, Washington Times, March 8)

Hundreds of participants arrived in the capital by bus from New York City, Baltimore (Maryland) and Richmond (Virginia). (Richmond Times-Dispatch; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, March 8) Some 500 participants arrived on buses from Georgetown, in southern Delaware, the center of the poultry processing industry. Many of them had attended a massive immigrant rights rally in Georgetown last Feb. 14. Parishioners from Catholic churches in Seaford and Georgetown collected more than $3,000 over the weekend of Mar. 4 to pay for the buses. (News Journal, Wilmington, March 8)

Clergy from the Jewish, Catholic, Quaker, Episcopalian, Methodist, Muslim and other faiths protested the bill with a prayer service at the Washington rally and a press conference earlier in the day; clergy are particularly incensed over a provision in HR 4437 which would impose sanctions on anyone who assists undocumented immigrants in any way. (Christian Post, WT, March 8)

Senate Committee Debates Bill

On Feb. 24, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released his 300-page immigration “reform” proposal, an attempt to compromise between opposing factions in the immigration debate. Specter’s “Chairman’s Mark” includes many of the same harsh provisions as HR 4437, along with a “guest worker” program for migrant workers; the plan would not provide a path to citizenship, and immigrants already living here would not be eligible. (NYT, Feb. 25)

On March 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee began marking up the bill; they continued on March 8 and 9, voting on March 9 to add provisions to build new barricades on the US-Mexico border and hire 12,000 new Border Patrol agents over the next two years. A fourth markup session is scheduled for Mar. 16. The Judiciary Committee is trying to finalize the bill and send it to the full Senate for a vote by Mar. 27; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has threatened to move forward with his own “enforcement- only” version if that deadline is not met. (Los Angeles Times, Arizona Republic, WT, March 10; News Journal, March 8; Message from Prerana Reddy, March 3)

Organizers of the Chicago and Washington rallies are mostly supporting the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, co- sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA), as an alternative to Specter’s proposal. (CT, March 11; Catholic News Service, March 8) The Kennedy-McCain bill includes provisions for border security, temporary worker visas and family reunification. It would require efforts by foreign countries to help control the flow of migrants, cover the costs borne by hospitals that provide emergency care for undocumented immigrants, promote citizenship and take steps to prevent fraud. (CNS, March 8)

Rights advocates are urging people to call their senators to express support for immigrants–including a path to citizenship– and opposition to harsh enforcement provisions. Anti-immigrant forces are apparently flooding senators with calls. More information is available from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (, the Immigration Forum ( and the Rights Working Group (, among others. (Immigration Forum Action Alert, Message from Prerana Reddy, March 3; National Immigrant Solidarity Network, March 10)

From Immigration News Briefs, March 11

See our last post on the immigrants’ rights struggle.