May Day, May Day

“It’s great because the Pandora’s Box is open, and you can’t close it,” says 30-year-old Jerry (who requested that his last name be withheld). The black Chicagoan stands outside the sandwich shop where he works, and snaps pictures as hundreds of thousands of Mexican, Polish and other immigrants and their supporters stream by, chanting and occasionally throwing up a deafening roar that rebounds among the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. An official police estimate placed the crowd at about 400,000, while organizers at the rally announced a figure of 700,000.

On the 120th anniversary of the Haymarket Riot, the birthplace of May Day witnessed a demonstration unprecedented in size for the city–part of the nationwide demonstrations, strikes, human chains, economic boycotts, student walkouts and other forms of protest for immigrants’ rights. Chants of “Bush, escucha, estamos en la lucha!” “Amnistía!” and occasionally “USA! USA!” were heard, not “The Internationale.” The march culminated in a rally at Grant Park, where throngs of people lined the sides of the bowl-shaped space while others filled the muddy infields of the park’s baseball diamonds to try to catch words from the speakers, to rest after their several-mile trek or, in some cases, to do the Wave.

Marching through Chicago’s downtown behind the banner of UNITE HERE Chicago and Midwest Region, union members chanted “Qué Queremos? Amnistía…Y Cuándo, cuándo, cuándo? Ahora, Ahora, Ahora.” Before, during and after the event, others voiced demands for respect, amnesty or legalization and an end to deportations.

One marcher, Ricardo Mayorga, a 20-year-old born in the States who has also lived in Mexico, said he wants “not just green cards, not just visas, but citizenship,” and that the government should “stop taking people out of the country.”

Undocumented José, translated through his 13-year-old daughter, Jessica, said he was there so people would “respect us and give us amnesty.”

Taraq, a 30-year-old undocumented Pole, said that “something needs to change. Now it is a disaster.”

The sentiments of the undocumented reflect both a sense of urgency and a need to address the lack of workplace rights, travel restrictions, deportations, racism and the other problems they face. Despite the recent flurry of legislative activity, their concerns do not figure centrally in Washington’s calculations. The House would make felons of the undocumented and criminalize those who assist them. The Senate proposal currently on the table creates a legalization process for many undocumented workers, but it is a tiered system that would deny green cards and adequate workplace rights to millions, while expanding jailings and deportations within the United States and at the border.

Nationally, advocates are taking a variety of positions on the proposed legislation, from calls to amend it to outright rejection and demands for more substantive proposals. As of April 27 some 100 advocacy groups had endorsed a statement put together by National Network of Immigrant and Refugee Rights: “Despite the loud and determined voice of immigrant communities, advocates and supporters for fair and just immigration reform this year, we have yet to see an acceptable proposal from Congress.” And, the statement warned, the Senate-House reconciliation process will “likely produce laws that would detrimentally affect current and future immigrants for years to come.”

Meanwhile, immigrants–and more and more frequently, those who come as allies–continue to show up in the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and other cities.

Ahmed Aduib, a 20-year-old Palestinian-American student and counselor, came down to Chicago with three of his brothers and other members of his Bridgeview mosque to express this growing sense of solidarity with the undocumented Latino immigrants who have formed the heart of these mobilizations.

“We’re showing that minorities aren’t too small–we’re together.”

From The Nation