Immigrant Movement Could Lose with Boycott

There is opposition within the U.S. immigrant community to Monday's planned mass demonstrations, job walkouts and spending boycott. Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigration Coalition, thinks the boycott may undermine what immigrant groups have accomplished so far.

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Immigrant Movement Could Close With Boycott

ED GORDON, host:

But not all agree with the boycott. Jaime Contreras is president of the National Capital Immigration Coalition based in Washington, D.C. He says Monday's demonstration comes much too soon.

Mr. JAIME CONTRERAS (President, National Capital Immigration Coalition): As a coalition, we took a vote, where the vast majority of the coalition, after some discussion and some back and forth, decided that the boycott and the strike--it's tool that is at our disposal. But we felt very strongly, that right now, given that it's on Congress to respond to the activities of April 10, that right now is not the right time to have such an activity.

We have, before April 10th, or before this activity started, less than 50 percent of the American public supported (unintelligible) immigration reform. Now, according to a CNN report, you have more than 70 percent of Americans saying, these people are working, paying taxes, and if they pay a fine--why should they not be allowed to stay, especially if they learn English.

So we want to continue that positive energy. And because of that and a lot of other reasons, we decided that a boycott and a strike was not ideal at this moment. We're not opposed to the idea, but we don't think right now is the right time.

GORDON: Mr. Juarez suggested that his group found that 90 percent of their participants suggested that they thought it would be a good idea, even if it meant losing their jobs. That is a real aspect of May 1, particularly if this thing gets big enough, that people may in fact lose their jobs. In the long run though, do you think that that may, in fact, be worth it?

Mr. JUAREZ: Well, I think as activists, we understand that our community is very emotional and they are very, very excited about everything that's going on. And we believe that it's our responsibility to at least inform people of the process, inform people of why some things make sense to do when you have to do it. We know that life is a risk. People take risks all the time. And we appreciate that our people are willing to do that at this point.

But does it make sense to do it right now? And the way that I've been saying it is actually, you're throwing the atomic bomb before you're throwing the bazooka. So you have to really be strategic. We have been able to accomplish so much with all of these positive activities, that we've been doing that, we believe that we need to give the Congress the opportunity to debate the issue and have them respond to everything that we have been doing. And there is a lot of movement going on.

But the groups in the coalition, we respect the fact there are people who disagree. I mean, it's good. We can't always agree on everything. And I think it's a good discussion to have. Mr. Juarez has done his survey. I'm sure it is very scientific, you know, and very accurate, because the community is emotional. They want to do what's next. But, I will not be able to wake up the next day, knowing that there were thousands of people that lost their jobs without really having to at this point.

GORDON: How much do you believe emotion has gotten in front of strategy, if you will, when you hear from Los Angeles, for instance, that taxi drivers have vowed to shut down LAX on that day, and truck drivers say they will stop work to close harbors.

Mr. JUAREZ: Unfortunately, there have been those who have taken, or at least are trying to take, the movement--or the bull by the horn--if you will. And even in LA, you have Cardinal Mahoney; you have all the major organizations in LA; most of the major leaders in LA and California as a whole; are saying, folks go to school, go to work. Take your kids to school and participate in activities that are going to happen on May 1. We do not believe that emotions and ideologies should drive activities like a boycott and a strike.

Ideologically, yes, it may make the most sense to do it on May 1. But it doesn't make sense strategically. And it's all about strategy. At the end of the day, we're all united against Sensenbrenner and achieving real comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes more than 11 million workers who are right now without documents to work in the United States. With those two goals all of us agree on. So let's be strategic about it.

GORDON: Legislation is one thing, ideology is another. Do you think that you have to tackle ideology first? Because there are a lot of Americans who suggest that, no matter what jobs illegal immigrants take, that Americans, quote, “may not want to do”--they still feel that they're jumping the system; that they're getting things unfairly. Don't you have to have a meeting of the minds at that point, even before the legislation will do much good?

Mr. JUAREZ: I think that we have to look at what we have been able to accomplish with all these activities that we have been doing, and we have to step back and say, look how far we've come in two months. You know, before we were talking about how do we stop anything from happening this year when it comes to immigration reform because anything is going to be bad. We were on the defensive at that time.

Now, we're on the offense, and now it's like, okay, how do we get a good compromise and a good bill out of the Senate and out of the conference committee? What we're encouraging our people to do-at least the young-is go to these activities and register to vote. Go to these activities and sign letters and petitions to the Congressional leaders, and say, look, here we are. We're still keeping you informed that we're not going anywhere and that we're still active.

GORDON: Mr. Contreras, before we let you go, I want to talk, if you would, and have you tell us about your journey. I understand that you came here at the age of 13 from El Salvador and joined the U.S. Army at 19. What is your status here? Are you an American citizen now?

Mr. CONTRERAS: I think it's, in a lot of ways, a shame for us in the way that undocumented immigrants are being looked at by people like Tancredo and Sensenbrenner. Because when I was 13, I came here to the United States, fleeing a war in El Salvador, and I learned English. I started working at the age of 16 to help my family. I graduated high school. I went to serve in the United States Navy and-for three years-and got out honorably.

Now, I am a U.S. citizen. I am contributing in any way that we can. I own property. So it's not like--we don't come here to be a burden on the American economy. We come here to make America stronger, and I, personally, am feel offended and betrayed by people like Sensenbrenner and Tancredo, who now, you know--if they would have been around in 1997 when I went to the Navy, I would have been a criminal, even though I wasn't even a U.S. citizen yet, and a kid who came here undocumented. You know, I love this country. I have served this country and continue to serve this country. But people like me, if Sensenbrenner came law, would be considered criminals for helping and providing humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants. So I think that is un-American.

GORDON: All right, Mr. Contreras. Thank you so much for your time. We'll see what happens on Monday, and appreciate you being with us.

Mr. CONTRERAS: Thank you, sir. Appreciate you having me.

GORDON: Jaime Contreras is president of the Washington, D.C.-based, National Capital Immigration Coalition.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Coming up the director of Phat Girlz explains why she's disappointed with black moviegoers; and soldiers wounded in Iraq are having their service repaid with a visit from Pentagon debt collectors. We'll discuss these topics and more on our roundtable.

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