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Higher Turnout Expected at May 1 Marches

El Mensajero, News Report, Erika Cebreros, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Apr 30, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO President Barack Obamas plan to push for a debate on immigration reform this year, recently reported in a national newspaper, could be a double-edged sword for those who march on May 1, local activists say.

For Csar Jurez, one of the organizers of the march in San Jose, this news will be a great incentive for more people to take to the streets.

Juarez, who works at the Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), said that with a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in Congress, there is "more hope" of passing a law that legalizes the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. However, the activist predicted that immigration reform would not be achieved this year. He said it is very likely "that theyll be discussing an immigration reform bill in Congress in 2010."

Sagnicthe Salazar, spokesperson for Oakland Sin Fronteras, a coalition of groups organizing the march in this East Bay city, predicted that a greater number of immigrants would be marching to demand that the new president make good on his campaign promise: to advocate for fair immigration reform.

"We are tired of so many attacks," said Salazar, referring to the raids by Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) that have affected many Latino families.

Double-edged sword

For his part, Miguel Prez, one of the organizers of the march in San Francisco, said that the report that
Obama will speak publicly about immigration in May could prove counterproductive. Some people, he said, take for granted that immigration reform is imminent, that the president has everything under control, and therefore they dont consider it necessary to demonstrate.

But "Obama alone wont solve the problem," Prez said during an April 14 press conference that was held in the Mission, the citys Latino district, to announce the launch of the marches on May 1, International Workers Day. The president, he added, needs peoples support in order to pressure Congress, particularly those who oppose illegal immigration and those who believe that efforts should focus on resolving the current economic crisis and not the immigration system.

"The best way to help the president is to make them see us," summarized Prez, spokesperson for the May 1 March Organizing Committee, a coalition of various groups that are coordinating the upcoming protest.

Gabriel Cabrera, one of the representatives of the committee, explained that this year three sectors had come together, something that had not formally materialized in previous years: students, workers and immigrants. This, he felt, would be reflected in a higher turnout of demonstrators.

"It's the best time to join forces," said Cabrera, referring to the economic crisis and the negative impact it has had on various sectors of society.

Miguel Robles, one of the activists at the press conference, believes that a substantial number of people wont attend the 2008 march because they dont want to lose a day of work.

But many immigrants, he said, wont face this dilemma since "now there isnt any work."

Guillermina Castellanos, of the Women's Collective, did not agree. She said that the participation of the immigrant community does not depend on jobs. Like Jurez, the activist believes there will be greater community involvement and that "people are very excited" after hearing that the president will take up the issue of immigration.

According to the SIREN representative, 12,000 people attended the May 1, 2008 protest in San Jose. And he expects this years demonstration to "easily" exceed that number.

In addition to the news about Obama, Jurez listed other factors that suggest greater community participation. He stressed that the groups that are coordinating the march in San Jose "are more organized." The support of unions, he said, will also be key.

Role of unions

On April 13, The New York Times reported that the two largest unions in the country, Change to Win and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) -- have agreed, for the first time, to join forces to support fair immigration reform that does not include a new, extensive temporary worker program.

On April 20, an editorial in the same newspaper endorsed the unions support for immigration reform.

The support of labor was also visible at the local level. In attendance at the press conference, organized by the groups leading the march in San Francisco, was Jack Hayman of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 (ILWU). "Immigrants need to be organized and defended," said Hayman.

Inside the Mission Cultural Center, where the event took place, a huge banner read, "Native or foreign, the same working class."

Other unions in the Bay Area have provided their support for the upcoming rally: teachers, electricians, postal workers and dockworkers. When asked about the mistrust many people have of unions, representatives of the May 1 March Organizing Committee recognized that the groups have many interests and that they dont always defend the interests of their own members.

However, its been proven that we couldnt reach our goals alone. Joining together with unions "doesnt guarantee change [in the immigration system] but it does ensure a stronger fight," noted Prez.

Moreover, continued the Argentine-born activist, unions have a lot of resources. For example, several of these groups made substantial contributions to Obama's presidential campaign. Hopefully, he concluded, they will also provide resources for the fight for immigration reform.

Related Articles:

May 1 Immigration Demonstrations Test Organizers' Online Strategy

Swine Flu Threatens May 1 Marches

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