Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day Immigration Rallies in the South

From Facing South, the blog of the Institute of Southern Studies, a post by Desiree Evans on the burgeoning immigrant rights movement:

This year's May Day immigration demonstrations come with a renewed sense of hope. In April the Obama administration announced plans to tackle comprehensive immigration reform this year. Obama plans to speak publicly on the issue this month.

Spirited by Obama's pledge, labor and immigrant rights advocates are gathering in cities across the South and throughout the country this May 1 to urge President Barack Obama to stay true to his promises of immigration and labor rights reform this year.

May Day, a day historically used to celebrate the the contributions of working people around the globe, has become an important movement-building day for immigrant rights activists over the past couple of years in the United States. Over 1.5 million people took to the streets throughout the country (and across the South) on May Day 2006, culminating in the largest immigrant rights protest in U.S. history.

Since then the May Day immigration rallies have become an annual event for groups seeking a fairer U.S. immigration policy. This year's May Day marches will echo Obama's call for a humane immigration reform this year, underscore the importance of immigrants to the economy, and challenge the failure of Bush-era enforcement-only policies that have led to violations of civil, labor, and human rights.

A New Day for Immigration?

The Obama administration favors legislation that would legalize immigrants but recognize that they previously violated the law, imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense. . . . This policy is also expected to shift the focus from isolated sweeps targeting illegal immigrants to punishing the business owners who employ them.

Although White House aides have said that Obama wants to concentrate on the economic crisis first, they point out that immigration reform is a vital part of economic recovery.

"Our top priority in Congress is to get this economy back on track. We are working hard to make progress there, and more will be done," a Democratic leadership aide told the Christian Science Monitor last month. "A key component of economic recovery is restoring fairness in our labor markets, and immigration reform is part of that effort."

Immigrant groups plan to hold Obama accountable. Of all ethnic groups, Latinos represented the greatest shift in favor of Obama during the 2008 elections, supporting him in record numbers. Nationally, 9 percent of the electorate identified as Hispanic in exit polls, and 67% of those voters chose Obama.

While some immigrant rights advocates had hoped to see reform legislation introduced within the first 100 days of the new administration, many are pleased that Obama plans to address the issue later this year.

More than anything, immigrant rights advocates see this as a crucial moment for their movement. Advocacy groups argue that immigration reform is a necessary component of any plan to lift wages, increase revenue, and create a level playing field for workers during this time of economic recession. Immigrant groups are also hoping that the administration will prioritize a moratorium on mass raids and detentions, two issues that have gotten much attention in the media in the past few years due to egregious human rights violations.

Nationally, the activism of immigrants has given bite to this oft-forgotten May Day holiday in the United States.

As David Bacon writes at Huffington Post:

[Immigrant] marches have already rescued from obscurity our own holiday, which began in the struggle for the eight-hour day in Chicago over a century ago. Today they are giving May Day a new meaning, putting forward ideas that will not only benefit immigrant communities, but all working families.

So from Miami to Immokalee to Atlanta to Louisville to San Antonio, Southern labor rights and immigrant rights activists will gather to celebrate International Worker's Day with a nation-wide called for immigration reform today. Where will you be?

For more information or to find a march and rally near you visit:

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