The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Immigrant Solidarity Actions Planned in Latin America

by Jessica Pupovac

While May Day demonstrations in support of immigrants’ rights are planned from coast to coast, many in Latin America are also gearing up to send a message of opposition to US immigration policy.

Apr. 30, 2006 – While May Day demonstrations in support of immigrants’ rights are planned from coast to coast in the United States, many Latin American neighbors – from Mexico to El Salvador to Colombia – are also gearing up to send a message of opposition to Washington’s immigration policy.

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Rallies, road blockades, boycotts and other actions are planned South of the US-Mexico border in solidarity with the "Day Without an Immigrant" campaign inside the US – a nationwide boycott and labor strike of immigrants and their supporters.

"The seed is growing and being born on it's own," said Juan Garcia, founder of the Rhode Island-based Committee of Immigrants in Action, in reference to the decentralized, grassroots character of the related actions. "This really is an international movement of the people."

In early April, after a series of massive, highly publicized marches in cities across the US, representatives from various immigrant-rights groups met with their Mexico and Central and South America-based counterparts in at least two separate summits, in Arizona and California, to plan for the "Day without an Immigrant." The primary demand of those alliances, and the throngs that have joined them, is "full amnesty and dignity for the millions of undocumented workers presently in the US."

"There are 12 million people living in this country who are undocumented because of unfair and unjust laws," explained José Oliva, coordinator of the National Network of Worker’s Centers, a Chicago-based project of Interfaith Worker Justice that works to organize and educate low-wage workers. "It’s a civil rights issue. It is an issue of people’s rights to be recognized as human beings."

May 1 is already widely celebrated as Labor Day throughout the region, a day to honor the gains of workers and demand greater economic opportunity and political representation.

Mexican and Central American media outlets quickly picked up stories about the demonstrations and before long, organizations throughout Latin America were also promoting "The Great American Boycott." May 1 is already widely celebrated as Labor Day throughout the region, a day to honor the gains of workers and demand greater economic opportunity and political representation.

This year, that expressly includes the rights of what many activists refer to as "economic refugees" in the United States. "Everybody has been waiting for this moment for more than a decade," said Noe Hernandez, coordinator of Centro Azteca, an immigrant support organization in Fresno, California. "Thanks to the millions of immigrants in the States, their friends and family back home, and, of course, the media, everybody has learned about this and they have said, ‘OK, it's time.’"

Hernandez said that although his organization serves a predominantly Mexican population, they also have people from Central and South America, Africa and even Asia getting involved and sharing information about May Day events in their home countries.

To promote the "Great American Boycott," groups are circulating dozens of emails, including one that reads "Nothing gringo on our table on May 1." Supporters are urged to shun all US franchises, including fast-food chains, hotels, supermarkets, airlines and even TV channels, such as MTV, ESPN and FOX. The target is not only the transnational corporations, but governments, which enjoy taxes from such companies’ product sales.

Supporters are urged to shun all US franchises, including fast-food chains, hotels, supermarkets, airlines and even TV channels.

"If all workers in other countries have the same idea, I think that this will build strength and momentum for the movement, and that will be very significant," said Sebastian Quinac, director of the American Friends Service Committee' Program on Immigration and Border policy in Arizona. "[The boycott] will educate not only people inside the US who might be undecided about the issue or who don't know much about what is going on, but also people outside the US who might not know about the many problems and violations of human rights that happen to immigrants here. The US isn't as great as they think."

In Mexico, the members of the Organización Agrodinámica Nacional, a farmers’ organization, announced last week that members plan to blockade two key passes along the US-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez – Puerto Palomas and De las Americas. According to a report published by the International Community Foundation, an organization that promotes international corporate philanthropy, the border states in northern Mexico have been hit hard by northward migration, and have less access to basic water and sanitation services, plus higher rates of infant mortality and poverty than the rest of the country.

Joining the blockade is a coalition of Mexican labor unions that are planning an action at the Mexicali-Calexico crossing, according to Hernandez of Centro Azteca.

Support of these actions is also coming from high-profile Latinos. Colombian musician Shakira and Mexican-born Selma Hayek have endorsed the actions in interviews.

Support of these actions is also coming from high-profile Latinos. Colombian musician Shakira and Mexican-born Selma Hayek have endorsed the actions in interviews.

Chambers of Commerce in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana are supporting the actions, as are dozens of labor organizations throughout the Americas, including the Mexican Federation of Service Workers and the General Organization of Guatemalan Workers (CGTG).

While Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations Luis Ernesto Derbenz’ declared that the government will not join nor support the boycott, some state officials have made public statements to the contrary.

Hermosillo Governor Eduardo Bours Castelo said that he will do his best participate in the boycott, although he recognized that it will be difficult as local stores are "saturated" with products from their northern neighbor.

One Guatemalan politician, Congress member Alba Estela Maldonado, took things a step further, proposing that lawmakers pass a declaration against legislation passed in the US House of Representatives last year, the most conservative of the immigration-reform bills being considered in Washington.

The Central American Parliament, a pan-governmental institution devoted to the integration of Central American countries, has already generated an official denunciation of the bill; the statement now awaits approval by the leadership of each individual country.

In many cities, including Quito, Ecuador, Bogotá, Colombia and Caracas, the issue is being incorporated into pre-existing demonstrations. Organizers report that they will observe a minute of silence during the demonstrations, at the request of US-based organizers, for the estimated 4,000 people that have died trying to cross illegally into the United States over the last ten years.

There will also be demonstrations held in front of US Embassies in some cities, including Lima, Peru; Guatemala City and Mexico City, where Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation is scheduled to address protestors.

Oliva, with the National Network of Worker’s Centers, said the internationalized opposition to US immigration policy can make a difference. "What this can do is create some real ties between working people in the US and the rest of the world," Oliva said.

Putting this May Day in historical perspective, Olivia referenced the late 19th Century immigrant-led, grassroots movement that eventually succeeded in its goal of instituting the eight-hour work day. "It elevates the struggle to a whole other level," she said. "I think that May Day is going to be a very important date in history."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Jessica Pupovac is a contributing journalist.

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