Immigrant boycott aims to “close” US cities


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Pro-immigration activists say a
nationwide boycott and marches planned for May 1 will flood
Americas’s streets with millions of Latinos to demand amnesty
for illegal immigrants and shake the ground under Congress as
it tackles reform.

But while such a massive turnout could make for the largest
protests since the civil rights era of the 1960s, not all
Latinos, nor their leaders, were comfortable with such
militancy — fearing a backlash in Middle America.

“There will be 2 to 3 million people hitting the streets in
Los Angeles alone. We’re going to close down Los Angeles,
Chicago, New York, Tucson, Phoenix, Fresno,” said Jorge
Rodriguez, a union official who helped organize earlier rallies
credited with rattling Congress as it debates the issue.

Immigration has split Congress, the Republican Party and
public opinion. Conservatives want the estimated 12 million
illegal immigrants to be classified as felons and a fence built
along the Mexican border.

Others, including President George W. Bush, want a guest
worker program and a path to citizenship. Most agree some
reform is needed to stem the flow of poor to the world’s
biggest economy.

“We want full amnesty, full legalization for anybody who is
here (illegally),” Rodriguez said. “That is the message that is
going to be played out across the country on May 1.”

Organizers of the May Day marches, which have strong
support from big labor and the Roman Catholic church, vow that
America’s major cities will grind to a halt and its economy
will stagger as Latinos walk off their jobs and skip school.

Teachers’ unions in major cities have said children should
not be punished for walking out of class. A spokeswoman for the
Los Angeles Unified School District said school principals had
been told that they should not try to keep students in class
but instead should walk with the children to help keep order.

In Chicago, Catholic priests have helped organize protests,
sending information to all 375 parishes in the archdiocese.


Chicago activists predict that the demonstrations will draw
300,000 people — compared to the 100,000 who turned out on
March 10 to clog downtown streets. Minneapolis-based
agribusiness giant Cargill Inc. said it will close seven
meatpacking plants so workers can participate.

In New York, leaders of the May 1 Coalition said a growing
number of businesses had pledged to close and allow their
workers to attend a rally in Manhattan’s Union Square.

But some Latinos have expressed ambivalence about the
boycott and marches, saying they could stir up anti-immigrant
sentiment amid an incendiary atmosphere surrounding the issue.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese, who
has emerged as an outspoken champion of immigrant rights —
even calling on priests to defy laws aimed at those who would
help illegals — has lobbied against a walkout.

“Personally I believe we can make May 1st a ‘win-win’ day
here in Southern California,” Mahony said in a statement. “Go
to work, go to school, and then join thousands of us at a major
rally afterward.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the son of a
Mexican immigrant who has long fought for immigrant rights, has
taken a low profile on the issue. A Villaraigosa spokeswoman
said the mayor expects protesters to be “lawful and respectful”
and wants children to stay in school.

Critics have accused pro-immigrant leaders of stirring up
uninformed young Latinos by telling them that their parents
were in imminent danger of being deported and accuse them of
trying to bully Congress.

“It’s intimidation,” Jim Gilchrist, founder of the
Minuteman volunteer border patrol group, said of the May 1
events. “It’s intimidation when a million people march down
main streets in our major cities under the Mexican flag.”

“It angers the people you are trying to impress,” he said.
“This will backfire just like the Mexican flag parades

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