The Voices of Immigrants Must Be Heard!

May 14, 2006

The following is excerpted from an article by Nativo Lopez, President, Mexican-American Political Association and the Hermandad Nacional Mexicana, and David Bacon.

Yesterday [May 1] over a million people filled the streets of Los Angeles, with hundreds of thousand more in Chicago, New York, and cities and towns throughout this country. Immigrants feel their backs are against the wall, and are coming out of their homes and workplaces to show it.

In part, their protests respond to H.R.4437 - the Sensenbrenner bill - that proposes to eliminate all social space in which undocumented immigrants can work, survive, and provide for their families.

The protests do more than react to a particular Congressional agenda, however. They are the cumulative response to years of bashing and denigrating immigrants generally, and Mexican and Latinos in particular....

Unfortunately, however, these protests are also being used in Washington DC to justify compromises which betray the interests of immigrants and working people generally. Some more liberal Washington legislators, and their coterie of beltway lobbyists, even claim credit for the marches, or at least use them to justify their proposed compromises. But people have poured into the streets, not to support these proposals, but driven by fear of the harm they will do.

All of the various compromises offered in the Senate have repressive Sensenbrenner-type measures within them. The three-tier Hagel-Martinez legalization program, for instance, would produce a codified caste system, a sort of Bantu Apartheid that is un-American, and would rip our families apart. The Democratic Party's answer to the Sensenbrenner bill has been the McCain-Kennedy immigration proposal, which contains huge guest worker programs and increased workplace raids to punish the undocumented for the crime of working.

The huge number of immigrants and their supporters in the streets find these Senate compromises completely unacceptable. We will only get what we're ready to fight for, but people are ready and willing to fight for the whole enchilada. This is not the best that we can get, and we have nothing to lose.

Our greatest problem is that the Democratic Party is unwilling to stand and fight to oppose the repugnant idea of second-class status, in its haste to make a deal. National advocacy organizations claiming to represent immigrants are showing signs that they will accept these deals as well. At the same time, Washington legislators and lobbyists fear the growth of a new civil rights movement in the streets, because it rejects their compromises and makes demands that go beyond what they have defined as "politically possible."

People are willing to fight for more, and are making far-reaching demands. The immigration debate must be resolved by immigrants themselves and their voice must be paramount - not the voice of the politically well-connected....

The May first actions highlighted the economic importance of immigrant labor. Undocumented workers deserve legal status because of that labor - their inherent contribution to society. The value they create is never called illegal, and no one dreams of taking it away from the employers who profit from it Yet the people who produce that value are called exactly that - illegal. All workers create value through their labor, but immigrant workers is especially profitable, because they are so often denied many of the union-won benefits accorded to native-born workers....

The average undocumented worker has been in the US for five years. By that time, he or she has paid a high price for their lack of legal status, through low wages and lost benefits. The Senate compromises would have them pay even more - fines for legalization, as though they were criminals. These compromises would then have them wait over a decade to gain real legal status, not even considering the millions who would not qualify, and would then be deported.

Undocumented workers deserve immediate legal status, and have already paid for it.

On May 1st immigrant workers demonstrated their power in the national immigration debate. Their absence from workplaces, schools and stores sent a powerful message that they will not be shut out of this discussion, and that corporate-funded national organizations do not speak for them.

They are rescuing from anonymity the struggle for the 8-hour day, begun in Chicago over a century ago by the immigrants of yesteryear. They are recovering the traditions of all working people.