LITTLE ROCK, AR – On Monday, May 1, immigrant rights organizers from across the country promoted a worker strike and consumer boycott to raise awareness of the contributions of immigrants in a day people are calling “El Gran Paro Americano 2006: The Great American Boycott of 2006” and “Un Dia Sin Inmigrante: A Day Without an Immigrant.” Others are backing high school walkouts, teach-ins and prayer vigils to commemorate this day.
Organizers across the country say their goal is to push Congress to pass a bill that legalizes undocumented immigrants, allowing them to become American citizens. Some people will also use the strike and boycott to continue the ongoing protest against HR4437, a proposed piece of legislation that would increase border patrol and give undocumented people felony status. The U.S. Senate and House are now divided over whether this bill should become law.
Hundreds of people marched through Little Rock on Monday, seeking changes to U.S. immigration laws, and recognition of their impact on America. The points of unity for Monday are “no work,” “no school,” “no sales,” and “no buying.”
The rallies were intended to get the attention of lawmakers and comes three weeks after a similar march in Little Rock. It coincides with others in the state and around the country.
The rally ended at about 5 p.m., and organizers say more than 2,000 people showed up in support of less-restrictive immigration laws. They came from all over central Arkansas, but were unified in their message.
Maria Garcia, an organizer of the event says, “We want immigration reform. It’s as simple as that-the people that are here working, we want for them to have the right.”
A sea of immigrants packed Capitol Avenue carrying U.S. flags and signs that read, “We’re hard workers, not criminals.”
Pine Bluff resident Rosa Moody says, “These people are tired of hiding. They’re tired of being afraid. They’re ready for change, they’re coming forward. They’re identifying themselves as illegal and they’re asking for everyone’s help in changing that.”
Moody is a legal U.S. citizen, but many members of her family are not. “They’d like to be legal. They’d like to work. They’re not here to take anything from anyone; they’re simply here to try and get ahead.”
A handful of people were set up across from the Capitol protesting the rally. “They are being somewhat abused, but they bring it on themselves,” Gabriele, who didn’t want to give her last name, says.
“This is America, everybody has freedom of speech,” Moody says. “We are exercising ours, they are also exercising theirs, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Before the rally, some Hispanics chose to stay at home from work, shut down their own businesses and boycott others, to show their economic impact. Just how much of an affect any of this will have on lawmakers remains to be seen.
Studies show there are as many as 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., making up about 5 percent of the workforce.
The sponsor of Monday’s rally, the Arkansas Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, says it is planning other events over the next few weeks to press for legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Tyson Foods has a major stake in the immigration debate. As the world’s largest beef and poultry processor and a large-scale employer, the company has become dependent on Hispanic labor.
Monday, Tyson Foods closed nine of its 15 plants across the country because many of its workers participated in marches for immigration reform and amnesty.
A company spokesman says Tyson Foods wants to see a solution that provides better control over the U.S. borders, as well as more effective tools, to help companies verify the documents of the people they hire. Tyson Foods also supports a guest worker program and a way for undocumented workers in the U.S. to earn permanent legal status.
Around the country, marchers convered the streets around Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell to stage Philadelphia’s pro-immigrant rallies.
In Los Angeles, police had to close off a major intersection to accommodate crowds of people, some wearing sombreros.
People waving American and Mexican flags are marched through Milwaukee. Some hold a banner reading, “Open the doors to citizenship.”
In Chicago, activists asked demonstrators to bring out the Stars and Stripes in support of the U.S., although there are also flags from Mexico, Puerto Rico and dozens of other countries.
Organizers also wanted demonstrators to make human chains. In Phoenix, several dozen linked hands outside a home improvement store. In New York, protesters formed longer chains throughout the city’s five boroughs.
Stores, stands and food courts are shut down at Atlanta’s Plaza Fiesta mall.
Around Camden, New Jersey, almost all of the county’s independent grocery stores are closed.
A church pastor on Long Island says he’s also seen “early returns” indicating a successful boycott, since sites where day laborers gather were empty Monday.
Businesses in a heavily Hispanic area of southwest Detroit were closed, although many leaders urged people to go to work and not risk losing their jobs.
Other major immigration marches in Arkansas took place in DeQueen, Ft. Smith and Springdale.