The protests that drew national attention to the future of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are relaunching, even though sweeping reform legislation has stalled on Capitol Hill.
Weeks ago, organizers picked Monday for dozens of demonstrations nationwide, a signal that what began as a string of disparate events — attracting tens and even hundreds of thousands of people — has become more coordinated.
“We don’t have a leader like Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, but this is now a national immigrant rights movement,” said Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has helped organize Chicago-area rallies.
Activists say the Senate’s decision last week not to push a bill that would have given many illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship is neither a cause for celebration nor a lost opportunity — it’s a chance to regroup. And that’s what they plan to do at demonstrations from Florida to Oregon that include school walkouts and marches in major cities.
From California to Georgia
Across California, more than 20 events were planned Monday, ranging from a rally in Bakersfield to a ceremony in San Diego dedicated to immigrants who have died while trying to cross the border illegally.
In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been at the forefront of the Catholic Church’s calls for activism in support of illegal immigrants, planned to lead a candlelight vigil.
In Georgia, where the governor is expected to sign a bill that would require verification of legal status before adults could reap many state-administered benefits, as many as 30,000 people were expected to march in an Atlanta protest, said organizer Adelina Nicholls. Her group, Alianza 17 de Marzo, staged a work stoppage last month.
Marchers there have been asked to carry only U.S. flags because organizers fear waving Mexican or other national symbols would inflame what they perceive as an already anti-immigrant public sentiment, Nicholls said.
Range of groups lend support
Religious groups nationwide have been coordinating the protests in recent weeks, along with dozens of unions, schools and civil rights organizations.
Part of their goal has been to recruit more Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants. Most protesters have been Hispanics and high school or university students.
Many groups had been preparing to rally since December, when the House passed a bill to build more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border; make criminals of people who helped undocumented immigrants; and make it a felony, rather than a civil infraction, to be in the country illegally.
Those mostly local and regional efforts, supported by popular Spanish-language disc jockeys, quickly converted into national plans after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in dozens of cities last month, culminating March 25 with a 500,000-person rally in Los Angeles.
Different organizers have different agendas, but they do agree on the need to convert energy from protests into massive voter registration drives.
Voter registration and citizenship education initiatives are set to begin in several states after a “Day Without An Immigrant” campaign planned for May 1, an event that asks immigrants nationwide to stay home from work and school, and refrain from buying U.S. products.
“Marches will only get you so far,” said Armando Navarro, coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, a network of Hispanic activist groups in Southern California. “There has to be an electoral component to get the Republicans out of the majority.”