Immigrant Rights are Civil Rights!
By Roberto R. Calderón, Ph.D.
Department of History
University of North Texas
© 2006-All Rights Reserved
An article published on March 11 in The Denver Post and written by an anonymous EFE wire service reporter stated: "More than 20,000 demonstrators rallied near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to underscore their opposition to draft legislation that would make being an undocumented immigrant a crime." The writer goes on to note that those he queried believed it to be the "largest protest in 25 years by the Hispanic community and its supporters."
Across the country countless activists are contemplating tactics that include civil disobedience if necessary in order to counteract what is widely perceived to be Congress’s current grossly restrictive immigration proposals.
The National Coalition on Immigration convened the demonstrators in Washington, D.C. Marchers demanded that Congress enact what is being termed "comprehensive immigration reform," which entails it cease from "pushing forward with measures that would treat…immigrants as ‘criminals.’" Ostensibly these principles are those being promoted by many relatively progressive forces within and outside the Democratic Party through the bipartisan Senate bill, S. 1033 (the ‘Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005’), otherwise known by the last names of its chief legislative sponsors, John McCain (R-Arizona) and Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts)—thus the McCain-Kennedy bill.
I’m glad that at least some coverage is being given to the fact that the Latino community and its allies organized a formidable marcha in Washington, D.C. to protest the inhumanity and serious injustice that is the current anti-immigrant wave of nativist sentiment and legislation. Nothing short of a major bill conferring a widely distributed ‘earned citizenship’ or amnesty to those immigrants already here will suffice to do justice to the lives of the millions of people whose liberty and pursuit of happiness is otherwise gravely compromised.
The U.S. Congress is preparing to commit a grave violation of human rights on a massive scale against one of its hardest working communities, its immigrant community. Said policies blindly deny the responsibility the U.S. government’s extensive ongoing pursuit of so-called free trade or neoliberal policies have had in driving a significant portion of this migration northward to the U.S. from Latin America primarily, but also from other parts of the globe. Clearly, the world is watching Congress’ actions in this policy area carefully and what we do today will be long remembered for having been enlightened or repressive, for having met and lived with our nation’s ideals, or with having made a farce of them.
I can’t but love the leading hope-filled immigrant and civil rights slogan that our brothers and sisters marched with in Chicago on March 10, which was: "Today we march! Tomorrow we vote!"
In this essay I want to address the inaccurate history mentioned in the article issued by the Agencia EFE and published in The Denver Post. The EFE journalist who prepared the article clearly is unaware of his or her recent immigrant and civil rights history where the Chicano/Latino communities in the United States are concerned.
Let me remind us that on October 12, 1996, El Día de la Raza, the Day of the People, celebrated across the Américas not as the conquest of the Américas but as Indigenous People’s Day, La Raza, plural, an estimated more than 50,000 (mostly Latinos) marched in Washington, D.C., for immigrant and civil rights. It was said at that time that about half of the marchers in that event, which came from all over the country, were Mexican American and Latino college students, young people.
It is great that "more than 20,000" people marched in D.C. last Tuesday, and that this was an event in which our gente were the ones driving the campaign. But we must not forget our history so readily, or let ourselves get carried away by the overwhelming power contained in the voice of so many souls gathered together in one place for one purpose.
Not to take away from the solidarity, the energy, and the message expressed, but to place the event in perspective historically. It was said in 1996, that the more than 50,000 marchers in D.C. that day comprised the single largest such march in the history of the Mexican and Latino peoples in U.S. history. From all corners of the North American continent Latinos marched on Washington.
Mexican Americans and Latinos had previously marched on Washington for various reasons (beginning with the Poor People’s March in the 1960s), but never quite in the way or with the numerical strength with which it was done on El Día de la Raza, 1996. Not that this will make it into existing U.S. history textbooks, where Chicano and Latino history is still dismissed as being outside the mainstream of this nation’s history.
But the day must be remembered and given its place in the larger evolving narrative that is becoming U.S. Latino history. After all, connecting the two hard-won marches was none other than the fact that the issue continues to be the same for our communities ten years later. We demand immigrant rights. We perceive these rights to be coterminous with civil rights in this country. For U.S. Mexicans and Latinos the two struggles for democratic rights are inseparable—they are virtually synonymous.
Moreover, it must be remembered that the March 10th marcha in Chicago, which was organized primarily by the "Mexican Homeland Federation," must be acknowledged for what it was. Indeed, as the Web site of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) stated it, if for no other more important reason than "for their leadership in organizing this march and encourage immigrants of all nationalities to join us with one voice."
The massive Chicago march met at Union Park, at the corner of Ashland and Lake, at 12 Noon. From there the multitudes numbering tens of thousands marched in unison as one voice and one people united in the strength of their convictions, knowing that as César E. Chávez once said in the Plan de Delano in 1965, "History is on our side."
The marcha’s rally point was Federal Plaza (Kluczynski Building), in the heart of Chicago’s business district, at 230 South Dearborn Street, between 2-5 p.m. The Governor of Illinois, second-generation U.S.-born Serbian American Rod Blagojevich was there, and many other elected representatives at the local, state and federal level also spoke and addressed the people.
The Univisión national evening news program reported that 70,000 marchers had participated. The morning after, however, NPR on North Texas’s KERA-FM/90.1 public radio station reported that the Chicago Police Department had issued a statement confirming that "more than 100,000 persons had participated" in the Chicago marcha. This would easily make this march in Chicago the largest ever immigrant and civil rights marcha in the history of Illinois. Significantly, it appears that most of the people participating were Latinos, as high as about ninety percent (90%) of the total by one account, and a majority of these were of Mexican-origin.
In other words, this was a historic occasion, one without precedent, and with national historical implications. However you wouldn’t know it by reading most of the front pages of the leading English- and Spanish-language dailies across the country the day after the marcha. Most editorial newsrooms silenced the voice of the people. This goes far in demonstrating the extent of the control or obeisance paid to the corpor
ate ownership of these "news" institutions, which are nowhere when you need them. Credit Noam Chomsky for being right: Today we "manufacture" the news. We don’t report the news as it happens.
The morning daily newspapers of March 11 here in the North Texas metropolitan area were themselves guilty of this practice. I was particularly disappointed that the Dallas Morning News’ (and Belo Corporation-owned) Spanish-language daily, Al Día, did not carry the story of Chicago’s march in its front page, and upon further review, they did not carry it at all—not even buried within its inside pages. If this story wasn’t the biggest story happening on March 10 (a Friday) for the Latino community nationwide, given the fact that more than 100,000 marchers took part—men, women, children—then I don’t know what was.
Go to the Web site and see what they used for front-page stories instead. The lead story reports about Republican President George W. Bush’s dismally low approval ratings. It would seem that this is an ongoing story that in no way should usurp one that is really national in nature where the Mexican and Latino communities are concerned. Who needs to read about Bush on page one when our people were making history on the twin issue (which is the same issue) of immigrant and civil rights?
Keep in mind that forty percent of the Latino community nationwide is an immigrant community, not to mention the huge percentage of the U.S. Latino community that is second, third, and later generations, many of whom are the children, grandchildren, and so forth of the immigrant generations. Where do we get our sense of priority editorially speaking?
Finally, it must be said that on October 16, 1994, in the heart of the City of Los Angeles, another historic marcha promoting immigrant and civil rights for the Mexican and Latino communities and immigrants generally took place in Southern California.
It must be said that while the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Times (which did cover it on its front page though more to complain about the too crowded presence of too many Mexican and other Latin American flags relative to U.S. flags), estimated that 75,000 marchers had taken part. The longest-running Spanish-language daily in the U.S., however, La Opinión, established in 1926 by the Lozano family and still owned primarily by them today, reported full blast across the front page loudly that 120,000 marchers had marched on Saturday, October 16, 1994, in unison and in full support of immigrant and civil rights for all immigrants, but certainly for Mexicano and Latino immigrants.
I was there. The 120,000 participants estimated by La Opinión best approaches the truth of the day in question. A memorable and historic day it was, and in terms of California’s history, and in terms of U.S. history, it was and apparently remains, the single largest ever marcha for immigrant and civil rights in the history of the nation, and it was one organized primarily by Mexican immigrants, Chicanos, Latinos, and immigrant allies and U.S. residents and citizens from all nations, all ethnicities, all races, all cultures, truly an American experience done in the best spirit and tradition that our country and its founding documents and principles call forth.
So, let us not now disremember history, but rather remember it accurately so that future generations may be able to look back and say, "This is my history. This is our history. This is my people’s history. This is América’s history."
In this light the marcha in Chicago would be the second largest-ever such marcha in U.S. history next to the one that took place against the injustice that was Proposition 187.
Prop. 187 you may recall held a prominent place on the ballot during the November 1994 California midterm elections. Its current federal monster sibling, in another midterm election season, is considerably worse. For just as California Republican Governor Pete Wilson was the immigrant community’s nemesis during the mid-1990s, because his name and political career were thoroughly associated with Prop. 187, the current bill—H. R. 4437—has its own cast of unscrupulous scoundrels. H.R. 4437 is called the "Border Security Bill," otherwise known by its key Republican sponsors, the Hastert-Sensenbrenner bill.
H.R. 4437 is the handiwork of the highly restrictive and anti-immigrant (often anti-Mexican) attitudes that have found a strong home in the Republican Party leadership and membership, particularly in Congress within the House of Representatives. The Senate Republicans, however, are not far behind. And the Democratic congressional leadership is timid on the issue of immigrant rights and amnesty in particular.
Instead of reading it as an issue where they can stand to gain new ground among the rapidly changing and seemingly less restrictive disposition of the overall electorate (including a majority of ordinary Republican voters), which polls have shown is prepared to offer unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S. a wide-ranging amnesty by a significant majority, Democrats have chosen to sponsor mixed bills that promote citizenship to selected groups of immigrants combined with repressive increased security remedies. Such actions will create a third tier of citizenship among a significant number of immigrants who will continue to remain in the shadows because of their unsettled legal residency status. And it does nothing for future unauthorized immigrants to come.
In short, Democratic remedies fall short of resolving the matter fairly and more universally for the foreseeable future. Republican measures are so draconian and punitive as to be criminal when considered in terms of their human rights implications.
Widely held speculation is that the immigration bill that finally gets enacted may have to wait for final passage until after the scheduled midterm elections this next fall. In the meantime, there’s no one stopping politicians who desperately want to win regardless at whose expense it might be. It’s a policy question that’s been tied to electoral seasons in the past.
Conservative politicians and well-financed right-wing operatives have found that it takes little to be a demagogue when it comes to the immigration question. It looks like another season in which immigrants are being made the scapegoats. Immigrants provide the misdirection needed, politically speaking, and are being forced to pay for the lack of peace in Iraq, for the excessive war profiteering that’s voraciously consuming U.S. resources and lives, for the squandering of a historic surplus and turning it into a historic deficit, for the economy’s lackluster one-sided recovery that favors the wealthiest among Americans, for the growing social and economic inequality, and the extensive systemic culture of corruption, cheating, and lying that’s been going on at the highest levels of American corporate and military society, the depth and extent of which has reached far into the U.S. government’s ranks including the Presidency.
In the meantime the cynics orchestrating the high-strung hysteria associated with attacks on immigrants willfully act to mystify rather than clarify the real problems and attendant solutions related to substantive U.S. domestic and foreign policies.
I only wish I had been in Chicago on March 10th and thus been able to be a part of history in the making. I’m glad for our community that many tens of thousands had the courage and the conviction of their principles and heartfelt realities to walk with the voice of history on their lips. Sí Se Puede! It’s now or never! We need compassion not racism! Diplomas not death!" These were some of the slogans expressed on the str
eets of Chicago yesterday. History will long remember those who walked on our behalf as well as their own.
One last thought: With more than 1.5 million Latinos in North Texas, why didn’t we organize our own marcha right here en el corazón del Metroplex?
Agencia EFE, "Protesters Demand Immigration Reform, End to Xenophobic Attacks," DenverPost.com, Saturday, March 11, 2006.
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Web site at: . The site had a call to the march and other pertinent information used by the organizers to convene the event. See, "People Unite! March against H.R. 4437."
Marc S. Rodríguez, "Chicago March Report (Chicago Tribune, 3.10.06)," Historia Chicana [Historia] listserv list, posted March 12, 2006. The comment was posted two days after the march together with the article from The Chicago Tribune that appeared the day of the march, March 10, 2006. Marc Rodríguez attended the march having traveled from Indiana to Chicago in order to make the event.
Posted by permission of the author.–gm