May Day protests challenge ICE raids

April 25, 2008

Lee Sustar reports on activists' plans for May Day mobilizations around the country.

VOWING NOT to be intimidated by a wave of immigration raids, activists from coast to coast are mobilizing for May Day marches and protests for immigrant and workers' rights.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents swept into Pilgrim's Pride chicken-processing plants in five states April 16, reportedly arresting about 300 people for alleged identity theft. Spokespersons at Pilgrim's Pride said that ICE agents detained as many as 400 workers. No management personnel were charged.

The raids at Pilgrim's Pride were part of an ICE crackdown across the U.S. The same day, ICE swept into workplaces in western New York; Bradford, Pa.; Mentor, Ohio; and Wheeling and New Martinsville, W. Va.

Dozens of workers at a Shipley Do-Nuts warehouse in Houston were also arrested April 16. "Families are in hiding," the Houston Chronicle reported. "Immigrants are lining up lawyers in case of arrest. Business leaders are nervous, and activists are outraged."

That outrage led to a series of emergency protests outside ICE offices in several cities, including a lively press conference and picket in Chicago initiated by the March 10 Coalition.

Marching for immigrant rights in San Francisco in 2007
Marching for immigrant rights in San Francisco in 2007 (Josh On | SW)

"The raids and other forms of repression serve no purpose other than to create fear and terror in immigrant communities across the country," the coalition stated in a press release. "Activists demand a halt to right-wing hysteria that criminalizes the undocumented, depicting them as a threat rather than what they truly represent: hard workers who have the right to justice and dignity."

Rather than retreat, organizers of the May Day protests have stepped up their efforts.

In San Francisco, an antiwar march by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) will also take up demands for immigrant rights. A community group has called a noon rally, and immigrant rights activists are building for a 2 p.m. rally at Dolores Park and a march to City Hall under the theme, "Workers United Without Borders," and calling for amnesty for undocumented workers. Marches are also planned in other Bay Area cities.

Southern California activists are also mobilizing. In San Diego, an immigrant rights march starting at City College will call for legalization for all, an end to raids and deportations, and the right to migrate for future immigrants.

In Los Angeles, immigrant rights groups are organizing two separate marches, which will merge in downtown LA. Teachers' union activists are mobilizing co-workers and students for the event.

Up the coast in Seattle, immigrant rights groups will also join an ILWU march in the morning before going to an immigrant rights' march in the afternoon.

In Chicago, home of the original May Day march in 1886, the mobilization once again has a broad array of endorsers for a third consecutive year, including the March 10 Coalition for immigrant rights, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and a wide range of community and religious organizations.

Several major union locals, including Service Employees International Union Locals 1 and 83, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881, have backed the march. The Chicago Federation of Labor has again endorsed the mobilization, which will consist of a march from Union Park west of downtown to Federal Plaza.

In New York City, several activist and community groups are organizing for a protest. There's also organizing in smaller cities in New York state as well. The Rochester Alliance for Immigrant Rights is among the groups organizing a march, which will include a show of support for a union drive at a Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Washington, D.C., will also see a rally and march sponsored by a coalition of immigrant rights groups. Immigrants and their supporters will gather in Malcolm X Park, and march through immigrant and African American neighborhoods.

Elsewhere, annual May Day events have been linked to immigrant rights' protests. In New Haven, Conn., the 22nd annual festival for International Workers' Day will take place at the New Haven Green, concluding with a march at 5:30 p.m., led by the Ecuadorian Community Virgen del Cisne Dance Group.

With the crackdown by ICE, organizers of the marches are expected to take on a new urgency as activists build support for those detained and their families. As Chicago's March 10 Coalition put it, "On May Day 2008, we will be marching for equal rights for all workers, legalization now, and an immediate end to workplace raids and deportations."

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