Reports from Two Cities on Mass Actions for Immigrant Rights, June 16 and 18, 2007

1. The Immigrant Rights Fight in New Haven

[Note from Labor Standard: The “immigration reform” bill died in the Senate the second week of June. But there is a bipartisan attempt to revive it, involving Kennedys as well as Bushes, Dems as well as Repugs. And behind all the politicians’ maneuvers stand the mega-corporations, thirsting for cheap “guest worker” labor and all the intimidating restrictions on labor included in the various “reform” proposals. Hopes for a bill that would legalize undocumented workers have been dashed. This first report is from immigrant rights activists in Connecticut.]

One result of the death of the Senate’s immigration reform bill was to reunite immigrant-rights forces in New Haven at a key moment—in the aftermath of the June 6 ICE home-invasion raids and arrests of 33 residents. The mass mobilization on Saturday, June 16, in the streets of Fair Haven, the Latino neighborhood where the raids took place, was perhaps the largest and most combative working-class response to ICE’s Operation Return to Sender since this counterinsurgency-type campaign began in April 2006.

The New Haven mobilization saw more than 1,000 protesters take to the streets of the Fair Haven neighborhood. They were union members, immigrant families, students, and various other allies from around the city and state. UNITE-HERE mobilized dozens of its members from the Yale University clerical and groundskeeping staffs, and also it bussed in 150 workers from its locals in Boston and New York. SEIU District 1199 had its own small contingent of health care workers; SEIU 32BJ rented a school bus for 50 members and supporters from Hartford.

A message from a historic leader of the civil rights movement, John Lewis (whose message is reproduced below), was read aloud at the rally by John Wilhelm, president of the hospitality section of UNITE-HERE.

News coverage was plentiful. The web site for the New Haven Register had good coverage, as did the Hartford Courant.

There is nothing unique about New Haven. The fightback came directly from the immigrant community and nowhere else. The churches and Democrats made their best effort to contain it, calling for prayer services that would exclude radicals. But such was the impulsion from the barrios that the church leaders and Democrats, having no independent base, found themselves in the same room with dozens of angry immigrant workers and a small group of radicals, and a call for a march issued forth. It is reminiscent of May Day in terms of suddenness and volatility.

The disappointed hopes that millions of immigrants had mistakenly placed in “immigration reform” find expression, in New Haven, in a new willingness to take to the streets.

We are likely to witness a similar process unfolding in other areas of the country, wherever a raid takes place, particularly in areas not already ravaged by multiple ICE raids. The movement to stop the raids has opened a new area of work for revolutionaries.

The Democrats and their auxiliaries are likely to respond to the failed immigration bill by calling for city councils to pass another round of paper resolutions that vouch for the safety of immigrants. In New Haven as nowhere else, the ability and willingness of city governments to prevent ICE raids was tested, and failed. In contrast, we advocate for mass mobilization and preparation for a comprehensive defense of immigrant neighborhoods and workplaces.

Workers in San Rafael, California, to give a modest example, created an ICE Watch by posting lookouts at entry points to their town. They send signals to town if ICE approaches. Similar networks exist informally elsewhere. Immigrants respond to ICE’s presence by avoiding work, and they are trained to refuse ICE entry to their homes.

These are the rudimentary first steps to an effective defense strategy, and they lay the political groundwork for more militant tactics in the next phase.

Statement of Support for the People of New Haven from Congressman John Lewis

[Note by Labor Standard—John Lewis is a historic figure of the Civil Rights movement. Now a congressman from Georgia, back in the 1960s he was one of the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the heroic youth who initiated and organized the sit-ins, Freedom Rides, etc., that helped defeat Jim Crow in the South.

[It is encouraging to see a message of solidarity from a leader of the African American freedom struggle to today’s freedom struggle of immigrant workers. John Lewis sent this message to the mass mobilization in New Haven on Sat., June 16, to protest the ICE raids in New Haven and to defend immigrant rights. The message was read to the crowd by John Wilhelm, president of the hospitality section of UNITE-HERE.]

(Introduction: Congressman Lewis regrets that he cannot physically be here with us today. However, he has sent this statement as confirmation that he is marching with us in spirit.)

We knew them well by that knock on the door in the middle of the night. Men who hid their faces beneath white hoods. They came with threats and force. They broke families apart. Men and women were led away, some never to return. Children cried. They would never forget. I will never forget.

Today in New Haven, and elsewhere in this great country, that knock has returned. Now it comes at any time of day or night. It comes from men who hide their identities behind anonymous uniforms. They trample on our Constitution. They trample on the hearth and home of hard-working men and women. They take fathers and mothers away from children. They spirit them away to hidden places. Some will not return.

Under the cover of law, the law is broken. Under the claim of homeland security, the security of homes is violated. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, peaceful families are terrorized.

Today these men without names have eyes only for people of a certain color.

Tomorrow, in their eyes, we will all be the same color. We must not abide this in America. I will not abide this in America. New Haven, you are a shining light of which every American should be proud. A light shining brighter today than even the torch of the Statue of Liberty.

I urge you to resist, as we resisted those who beat down our doors, who raided our communities, who sundered our lives and the lives of our children.

Let there be no strangers among you. Let everyone of you—young and old, men and women, firefighters and police officers, citizen and non-citizen alike—carry the identity card of the New Haven family.

Give sanctuary to the oppressed. Place your bodies as bulwarks between injustice and the innocent. Avert not your eyes but be steadfast and witness. Speak truth to those who abuse their power. Draw a line. They shall not pass.

You, we, our America will prevail.

2. Report on Immigrant Rights Rally in Atlanta, Georgia
by Joaquín Bustelo

[Note by Labor Standard: The author is a Latino journalist in Atlanta whose writings we have frequently posted on our web site. This is a slightly edited version of a report he posted to the Marxmail online discussion group on June 18.]

Up to 5,000 Latinos staged a candlelight “vigil for a just immigration reform” in Atlanta Monday night (June 18, 2007).

The event was the result of an initiative by a circle of Latino friends in Roswell, an Atlanta suburb, who felt something should be done to make the community’s voice heard while politicians in Washington debate “reform” of the U.S. immigration laws. The Roswell circle put out leaflets for such an event several weeks ago.

In the last couple of weeks, the main Latino activist organization in the Atlanta metro area, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (, formerly the Coordinating Council of Latino Community Leaders, and better known simply as La Coordinadora, threw itself behind the Roswell activists’ initiative, securing the agreement of the Plaza Fiesta mall to host the action, the cooperation of local police, the provision of a stage and sound system, and media publicity.

As with other big immigrant rights events here in the past, there was no formal list of cosponsors on a leaflet. Instead, the cosponsors were announced from the stage: the management of Plaza Fiesta, the mall in whose back parking lot the event was held; BANUESTRO (formerly Banco de Nuestra Comunidad), a bank-like financial services firm which, however, is no longer technically a bank (hence the change of name to BANUESTRO from “Banco de Nuestra Comunidad”); law firms; supermarket chains; and a variety of small businesses, including the ever-popular Tía María bakeries. (The María of the Tía María bakeries is a well-known activist in immigrant rights circles here whose delicious pastries have sweetened many a movement meeting.)

Absent from the list read out at the event—it would have been superfluous—were local radio stations like La Ley (the Law), Que Buena (so good), and the religious Radio Vida (Radio Life), as some of their most popular personalities were the emcees of the event.

The fact that their agenda included self-promotion, in addition to immigrant rights, was perhaps too prominent a part of the event, at least for this correspondent’s taste, although hardly a surprise.

Unlike the April 10, 2006, march and rally held at the same place, which was at least ten times as large, not every single one of the local Spanish-language radio stations were present. But that earlier event had taken place in the context of an unprecedented mass upsurge against a proposal to declare all unauthorized immigrants—and anyone who helped them—aggravated felons. Also in 2006, there was a nationally publicized call for actions in support of immigrant rights on that day (April 10), a call which had dominated the news programs and talk shows on Spanish-language media outlets.

Unlike what happened last year, it was only over the past weekend that the Plaza Fiesta vigil got significant media coverage, even in the Spanish-language media, all of that strictly local, and not as prominent.

Those speaking to the crowd included—among many others—former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who denounced attempts to pit the Black and Latino communities against each other; former Mexican Consul Teodoro Maus, under whose auspices La Coordinadora first came together in the mid-1990s; State Rep Pedro Marín, the main Latino opponent of anti-immigrant measures in the current Georgia legislature; Adelina Nichols, director of GLAHR and the long-time central leader of the immigrant rights movement in Georgia; and the Rev. Lydia Hernandez, whose righteous political/religious invocation in defense of the rights of immigrants amidst a sea of lit candles was the culmination of the vigil.

Unfortunately absent from the event and the speakers platform were all wings of the labor movement; the traditional civil rights organizations; and other Black community leaders (apart from sister Cynthia); the locally dominant Black/"progressive" wing of the Democratic Party; and civil liberties and human rights groups such as the AFSC, ACLU, and U.S. Human Rights Network.

Since the event was organized at the last minute, and in the minutes-to-midnight mad rush to finalize preparations for the U.S. Social Forum (to be held here next week), it is understandable that a number of groups or leaders may not have been able to make it. But that so many were absent is also probably due to the intense pressure that those in electoralist circles are under, as well as reflecting the very limited resources of GLAHR’s one-person staff, which took on the main burden of the organizational details for the action, and whose efforts were focused on the Latino community rather than outreach to other sectors.

There were a good number of activists/organizers of the U.S. Social Forum handing out literature in Spanish informing people about that event.

The most interesting aspect of the action—to this writer—was the tension between the demand for approval of an immigration reform that might lift millions of unauthorized immigrants from being “illegals” and the demand that any immigration reform be a JUST immigration reform.

As one woman who was in an especially enthusiastic group of 8 or 10 college-age demonstrators told me, “We can’t say the immigration reform must be just or we will reject it, but we do want it to be just.”

She explained that she would welcome any reform that legalized undocumented immigrants, even if the legalization required payment of thousands of dollars in fines and carried other onerous conditions. But she thought that Congress should eliminate those kinds of provisions, because it would mean that many would not achieve legalization, so the problem wouldn’t really be solved.

This reflects the mixed sentiments of a community that feels it has a gun to its head and will—gladly!—hand over its wallet so that the gun is taken away, but nevertheless can’t help but feel it has been the victim of a stick-up.

The overwhelming majority of those who spoke to the crowd did so in Spanish—with translation from English to Spanish provided from the stage for the two or three speakers who could not speak Spanish. Apart from long-time activists who have always been reliable allies and supporters of the Latino immigrant rights movement, there were no Anglos or Blacks in the crowd that I saw—hardly surprising, since the event received no advance mention that I am aware of in the English-language media.