The Immigration Movement at a Crossroads
America’s immigrants-most of them Latinos and most of those from Mexico-have been waiting and hoping for a comprehensive immigration reform, one that would legalize those who have been working in the United States and give them a path to citizenship without creating new guest workers programs. A year ago the Latino immigrants marched with their flags, with our flag, and with the slogan "No Human Being is Illegal." They asked to be recognized for their labor and their on-going contribution to our society. Since that wave of demonstrations, they have waited patiently.
Now Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), have put forward the Strive Act of 2007, a bill born in the hope of pleasing not only the immigrants but also conservatives in both parties. The bill will please neither. The immigrants have already spoken. Nativo V. López of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), who has been the most consistent fighter for a genuinely comprehensive immigration reform, has called the bill unacceptable as has the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
Once again, López has it right. The Gutierrez-Flake proposal fails to guarantee legalization for all immigrants who are here now, it would continue to criminalize immigrants, and it includes guest worker programs with the promise of legalization, but many years down the road. Under this bill, immigrants can’t even apply for legalization until corporations like Boeing, Ericsson, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon have made millions making the border secure. If immigrants want something better than this-and we know they do-then they will have to show their power as they did last spring.
A Day Without a Mexican
The immigrants’ power is enormous. Last year’s demonstrations in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, but also in many other cities and small towns, verged on becoming general strikes with the power to shut down both industry and services. If immigrants were to use their peaceful power, either by a one-day national strike-"A Day without a Mexican"-or by a series of strikes in selected cities or industries, they would once again put their case before the American people. They would show beyond a doubt that immigrants are working people-and that they demand their rights.
The grassroots Latino organizations know they have the power to do this, to call national demonstrations and to strike, with or without the blessing of the Catholic Church, without or without the sanction of the mainline Hispanic organizations, and with or without the okay of the unions. Latinos know they have the power because they did it once before, only a year ago, in the largest demonstrations of a social movement in the history of the United States.
If immigrants take to the streets again in the spring they will through their mobilization draw many tens of thousands of people into the movement. New people will come out who have never been involved before. The movement will construct new organizations and create new leaders. A Latino movement in the streets will find new allies in American society and it will keep pressure on Congress.
While the establishment organizations may be fearful of another round of demonstrations and the possibility of a strike, once the demonstrations begin the churches, the mainline Hispanic organizations and the unions will rally to the cause. Latinos and other immigrants represent a minority of the society and they need allies to win, but one gains allies only by acting with integrity in one’s own interest. Power exerts a magnetic force and draws others to it, just as weakness repels.
If immigrants do not keep up the pressure, then they can expect that Flake-Gutierrez will be whittled down to a highly repressive law that legalizes some while leaving most as guest workers or as undocumented immigrants condemned to continue to lead lives in the shadows. If immigrants don’t use their power, they can expect the raids like that in New Bedford, Massachusetts to continue, where men and women rounded up, detained and deported while their children are left behind. If immigrants don’t use their power, we will continue to see more Hazelton, Pennsylvanias and more Butler County, Ohios where local authorities terrorize the immigrant population.
The Latino immigrant movement stands at a crossroads, immigrants themselves will choose. They will either stand up again courageously as they did last year and use their tremendous peaceful power to win the solution that they deserve-legalization for all who are here now, a road to citizenship for those who so desire, and no guest programs-or they will step back from the challenge, allowing their opponents to divide and conquer with a "compromise bill." The lives of millions of immigrants and the future of the immigrant communities for the next several decades will be affected by their decision.
DAN La BOTZ serves on the coordinating committee of the Coalition for Immigrants Rights and Dignity (Coalición por los Derechos y la Dignidad de los Inmigrantes CODEDI–www.codedi.org) which helped to organize the spring 2006 demonstrations in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. He alone is responsible for the opinions expressed here.