Forging a New Strategy on Immigrant Rights

Hundreds of immigrant activists and supporters met in Chicago August 11-13 in a national strategy convention of the legalization-for-all wing of the movement.

The event was the largest of at least three national gatherings of immigration activists held over the summer, and the one that was directly based on the “Calendar Coalitions,” as the Latino-led grass-roots-based left wing of the immigrant rights movement is popularly known because many local groups take their name from the date they were formed or held a significant action.

The main decision of the convention was to found a National Alliance for Immigrant Rights around the central demands of a halt to all deportations and full legalization for all immigrants. A national coordinating council was created with the participation of activists from all over the country.

“The most important thing is that we gave the movement a national structure that will allow us to coordinate our actions,” Jorge Mújica, one of the key organizers of the convention told reporters shortly after the meeting concluded.

“We have transformed ourselves into a national movement.”

The Alliance also projected a series of nationally-coordinated local actions, the first during the Labor Day holiday weekend, the second on September 30, right before the beginning of the government’s new fiscal year and Congress’s adjournment for the elections.

These protests will be demanding not just legalization for all, but an immediate moratorium on all deportations and round-ups pending Congressional enactment of a comprehensive immigration reform.

Right now Congress is deadlocked on the issue. The House has passed a punitive, so-called “enforcement”-only act which militarizes the border and brands all undocumented immigrants as “aggravated felons.”

Attempts by the Senate to reach a “compromise” with the House have only led to a Senate Bill that incorporates many of the repressive features of the House version and has a convoluted, multi-tiered structure for a temporary semi-legalization that would not cover many millions of undocumented workers already in the country and puts off citizenship for those that do qualify almost two decades.

This attempted “compromise” has been rejected by the Republican House leadership.

The conference voted to oppose both these bills. “Better no law than a bad law,” said Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association and a leader of the movement in Los Angeles.

Instead, the convention agreed to counterpose to bills like those, an immediate a moratorium on raids and deportations pending further Congressional action.

The generalization of the moratorium demand to the national movement as a whole represents an important advance in taking into account the desperation of millions of undocumented who want full legalization for all, but consider even a partial and punitive legalization better than no legalization at all.

Attendance at the convention far exceeded the expectations of the organizers. They had expected 300 participants at the event. In reality more than 400 formally registered, and many more participated without registering. Organizers estimated that, in all, around 700 people took part.

The big majority of those attending were Latinos, with Mexicans the biggest Latino nationality, as they are in the population as a whole. Reflecting the immigrant composition of the majority, the convention was mostly conducted in Spanish with simultaneous translation into English.

For many participants, an important part of the conference was the convening of a women’s caucus that demanded full, equal participation by women in all aspects of the movement.

The impetus for the formation of the caucus came from Latina activists in their 20’s who objected to the virtually all-male slate of presenters and chairs organized for the first plenary session of the convention.

The convention as a whole unanimously approved motions from the caucus requiring equal female representation in all leading bodies and among spokespeople and national coordinators.

JOAQUÍN BUSTELO can be reached at: