Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 2006 Immigration Rallies in the U.S. from a 2009 Perspective

Almost three years have passed after the historical immigrant rallies took place in the United States. In that year, between March 11 and April 7, a number between 500,000 and 900,000 persons took to the streets in 76 cities. During the weekend of April 8-10, an estimate of 1.4-1.7 million people participated in rallies in 108 localities. Finally, on May 1, an estimated 1.2-2 million people in 63 cities across the nation participated in rallies linked to an economic boycott. The rallies of April 10 and May 1 are historical in the sense that for the first time in the U.S. millions of people took to the streets in a peaceful, simultaneous way, across the country.

Mobilizations were triggered when the United States House of Representatives passed the bill H.R. 4437 titled “Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.” This bill would make illegal presence in the United States (U.S.) a felony. The bill also would require the Department of Homeland Security to construct a double security fence across several portions of the Mexican border; would encourage local police to enforce immigration law; would make it a felony “to assist, encourage, direct, or induce to enter or remain in the country with knowing or reckless disregard” of the fact that immigrants reside in the country illegally; and would impose a maximum fine of forty thousand dollars per undocumented worker that an employer hires or that an agency helps to find work. This legislative measure affected directly the interests of the Catholic Church.

The most important actors in the mobilization process of millions of immigrants were the Catholic Church, the Hispanic media, immigrant-oriented organizations and the immigrant him/herself. At this point, the learned lessons were the following: 1) the capacity of immigrant mobilization of the Catholic Church (mostly Latinos) is powerfully unique. The Church triggered the protest against the H.R. 4437 and ended the marches as soon as it was evident that its interests were no more at risk. 2) The role of immigrant-related organizations and the Hispanic media were also very important actors in the coordination of the rallies. However, they have no capacity to organize immigrant mobilizations at a national level. In that sense, they depend on a major force (the Catholic Church) to become an important actor in a major, effective mobilization effort. 3) The massive participation of the immigrants probed two things: a) that they are invisible no more, now they know that taking to the streets is a feasible option for major challenges; b) that they are important for the American economy, indeed, they have been important for the American economy since the 1960s, to say the least. Otherwise, the H.R. 4437 would also have passed in the Senate.

There are two things that are different in 2009 when compared to 2006. We have Obama in the presidency and the U.S. is facing gargantuan economic challenges. Historically speaking, when things go wrong in a generalized way in the economy of any country in the world, recent-arrived immigrants tend to be blamed for everything and anything… Chances are very high that the activity of anti-immigrant groups will skyrocket. This, in addition to the fact that many immigrants are losing their current job at a rapid pace. It is expected that first they will move within the U.S. in their search for work, and then they would consider the option of going back to their place of origin. This decision is more difficult to those immigrants who have American-born children, regardless of their migratory status.

Then we have Obama and a Democratic Congress. This only means that the coin is in the air in terms of the feasibility of an immigration reform favorable to the U.S. economy and the immigrant themselves, mostly the undocumented who are already in U.S. soil. Obama’s plan to rescue the economy is not implemented yet and there is no word or speculation about the role of the immigrant labor force in the dynamics of recovery of the U.S. Assuming that there will be a relatively fast recovery, the market forces could take care of the issue. However, if recovery takes longer or, even worst, if things go bananas despite the recovery effort… well, let’s wait and see. And pray. Two things are for sure: Mexico and certain Central American countries have no private or public resources to deal with millions of people going back home in a relatively short period of time; and the United States will need immigrant labor to assure continuing growth once the worst has come and gone. Conclusion: the economic recovery, the sooner, the better; for everybody’s sake. San Obama, we trust you. Congress’ angels: we also trust you, even the dark ones, no problem. Indeed, we have no choice.

For a more complete explanation of what happened in the 2006 rallies, please take a look to my website, Immigration Research Now. I also have opened a temporary expo-web (an expo in the web that is not permanent) with images of the rallies published by the national media at the time. The expo-web is a work in progress, which means that you can take a look to the first 25 images right now and that in the next couple of weeks there will be at least 75 more images to watch. Enjoy.

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