Organizer: Big Immigration Rallies Planned for May 1

Last year's giant immigrant rallies culminated in a May 1 boycott as an estimated 1 million protesters marched peacefully in two dozen cities from Boston to Los Angeles. Now, organizers plan to do it again. Dubbed The Great American Boycott II and timed again to coincide with Labor's traditional May Day celebration, leaders want immigrants to flex their economic muscles by abstaining from purchases, skipping school and attending mass rallies in cities from New York and Chicago to San Antonio.

Last year's protests targeted the restrictive House bill authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin that would have made illegal immigrants felons and mandated 700 miles of border fence. (The House later passed the bill, H.R. 4437, but it died in the Senate, which supported a more liberal measure.) This year's agenda is broader and more diffuse. Organizers are pushing for an end to the recent spate of raids on businesses that hire large numbers of illegals. They also want to stop the federal government from splitting families by deporting undocumented parents whose U.S.-born children are American citizens. Longtime Los Angeles immigration activist Javier Rodriguez, one of last year's organizers, says he expects "millions" of immigrants will participate, including a larger coalition of groups than last year. Rodriguez recently spoke with NEWSWEEK's Andrew Murr. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What is planned for May 1?
Javier Rodriguez:
We expect a national boycott that will be several times bigger than last year in its size, effectiveness and also in its political message. Easily, there will be over 100 cities that will be boycotting and/or marching throughout the country—primarily, the major cities and regions where the immigrant has staked his ground … California, Texas, Arizona, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois and elsewhere. I expect millions will participate.

Last spring's rallies and boycott were driven by the House immigration bill sponsored by James Sensenbrenner. That's no longer an issue. What's the driving issue now?
The people see two things. One, they see that the Bush administration [approach] has not worked. They see the hypocritical message telling them that he is for family unity and for migrants to be able to legalize, while at the same time he has launched a campaign of persecution that has turned into psychological warfare. The people see right through that. It was those mass marches of last year that pushed the Latino electorate along with the antiwar sentiment that allowed them to defeat the Republican majority [in Congress]. It was a very astute move on the part of the immigrant community. That's one. But the driving force was that they see their immigration status has not changed. Nothing has happened.

Who is participating this year?
In New York, we have the May 1st Coalition. We have labor support, the West Coast International Longshore Workers Union and we have immigrants' rights groups, including the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional in Los Angeles. And a whole slew of other groups. We had 63 national organizations come to an organizing session in February. We're a lot better organized. Last year, we launched the May 1 boycott -at the March 25 rally. This year, we've been at it for five months.

The immigrant community will be at the heart of this, but we expect other people to join in. [We are working with] the ranks of the antiwar movement and the African-American community. And also labor.

How about elected officials?

I'll be very honest with you. At this point, we don't have any. But with three weeks to go, as the momentum builds and the hype takes over, there will be many. Many of them joined in for the rally on March 25 last year. Even the mayor [Antonio Villaraigosa] of Los Angeles [who supported a mass rally but came out against the economic and school boycotts]. He's an old buddy, [but] we definitely have different views. Last year, he didn't close City Hall. He scabbed on our one-day boycott.

What do you mean?
He opened up City Hall.
Last year, we also had the California Speaker Fabian Núñez, [and] the Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero closed the … State Senate that day.

Last time, we had city council folks here in L.A., as well as in New York and in San Antonio. Many of them will show up for the rally. We have the rank-and-file priests on our side.

Have you spoken to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which opposed last year's boycott?
We hope that they come to their senses and support us.

Last year, the Spanish-language DJs of Los Angeles provided key publicity for the March 25 rally, but then many opposed last year's boycott. Are they on board this year?
We expect the majority of DJs to come and support the effort, meaning airing it on their programs and bringing it up in jokes, appeals, promos and cultural comments, just like last year. We are moving now. We approached [TV host] Don Cheto yesterday, and they are expecting an official letter from us and they agreed. We have another one who is not very political, Humberto Luna, who will be opening his program to us on a daily morning show on La Ranchera radio.

What effect do you expect this year's boycott to have?
After the rallies last year, the opinion polls began to say that the majority of the American people were in favor of a legalization process. We want that to continue. It had to do with the fact that the immigrant community came out by the millions and they demanded respect. And we did it in such an orderly way, so civilly. We are calling for a humane plan to legalize all immigrants, and we want an end to the deportations and raids.