The Wall Street Journal
April 5, 2006
Mobilizing for Monday
Organizers Are Reaching Out To Diverse Ethnic Groups For Next
STEPHANIE KANG and MIRIAM JORDAN
Hispanic immigrants and their advocates in recent weeks have learned
a big lesson in how quickly they can mobilize behind a political
cause. With more immigration-reform demonstrations planned for early
next week, organizers are about to see how much muscle they have to
To build on a movement that attracted as many as 500,000 protesters
in cities like Los Angeles last month, a new round of demonstrations
is set for Monday in an attempt to keep pressure on the immigration
issue and broaden the base of support. At least 60 cities are
scheduling events that include candlelight vigils in Los Angeles, a
rally in front of the Washington monument in the nation’s capital,
and a “day without Hispanics” in Telluride, Colo. that is intended as
a work stoppage.
Turnout is hard to predict given that the events take place on a
Monday rather than the previous Saturday protests. But the events
could be disruptive to normal business operations in places where
Hispanics are a major part of the work force — everything from the
hotel and restaurant industries to construction and agriculture.
“It’s got employers’ attention and they’re trying to figure out what
to do,” says John Gay, senior vice president of government affairs
and public policy at the National Restaurant Association. He says
some of the association’s members, hoping to avoid losing the entire
staff for the day, are offering some workers the day off with pay so
they can attend the events.
Possibly adding to the impact: organizers now are aggressively
reaching out to other ethnic groups that are affected by the
immigration debate, including Koreans and Chinese. Their message is
that Hispanics aren’t the only group that stands to lose under
certain proposed changes to immigration law that would make illegal
immigrants felons and penalize their employers.
The large number of demonstrators across the country last month
underscored the political possibilities of a well-mobilized, but
previously untapped Hispanic immigrant base. School demonstrations in
Los Angeles and elsewhere — in which Hispanics walked out of
classes — indicate the prospect of more spontaneous protests.
While it appeared that demonstrators sprang up virtually overnight,
the protests were actually the culmination of weeks of planning by a
loose infrastructure of unions, religious organizations, and ethnic
and immigrant rights groups that in many cases organized into
national coalitions on immigration several years ago.
The short-term goal is to stop legislation like the House of
Representatives bill sponsored by Wisconsin Republican James
Sensenbrenner, which calls for deportation of all illegal immigrants,
construction of a fence along the U.S. and Mexico border, and
penalizing those who aid illegal immigrants. The bigger goal, say
organizers, is the passage of a Senate bill that would post more
patrols along the Mexican border and create a plan to allow workers
into the country and grant them credits toward obtaining visas if
they paid taxes and learned English.
Each group has its own reason for supporting immigration overhauls.
Unions have seen a decline in membership in part because illegal
immigrants fear that joining would result in deportation. Certain
faith-based organizations, led by the Roman Catholic church, have
picked up the cause on the grounds that it is immoral to punish
working illegal immigrants and those who help them.
Groups like Koreans and Chinese have thrown their weight behind the
issue partly because of the high numbers of illegal immigrants in
their own communities. About 20% of Korean immigrants in the U.S. are
believed to be undocumented, according to the non-profit Pew Hispanic
Center. Thousands of Chinese are also believed to be here without
But not all immigrants back the demonstrations. At the Costa Mesa
event, a 20-year-old son of Chilean immigrants, Daniel Calderson,
showed up to protest — for the other side. “This isn’t a race
issue,” he says. “It’s about breaking laws. He held a sign that
read: “My family did it the legal way. You should too!”
The creation of nationwide coalitions isn’t just a response to recent
legislation, but also to rising anti-immigrant sentiment after the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the threat represented by
groups like the volunteer Minuteman Project, which patrols the U.S.
borders and notifies authorities if people illegally enter the
The broadening effort was on display last week in Nashville, when an
array of immigrants, including Hispanics, Somalis, Sundanese, Kurds
and Laotions, turned out for the largest rally so far in the South —
with 15,000 people in attendance. “Before, the immigrant community
was invisible,” says David Lubell, director of the Tennessee
Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Turning out protesters has
proved more difficult in the South because newer immigrants feel
their position in those local communities is more tenuous than in
other areas, like the Southwest.
The groups are targeting the country’s roughly 26 million legal
immigrants as well as the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in
the country. Both immigrant communities are often intertwined, even
within a nuclear family. So-called mixed status families are
increasingly common, say immigration experts and may run counter to
opponents’ argument that legal immigrants resent the idea of illegal
workers “cutting” in line for legalization.
“It really doesn’t matter how an immigrant came to this country, or
how they gained status as an immigrant,” says Eun Sook Lee, executive
director of the National Korean American Service & Education
Consortium. “They face the same hard life — grasping language,
finding a job and really exercising their rights.”