Debating the May Day Boycott
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. On Monday, the U.S. economy may shrink temporarily if a one-day national boycott goes forward as planned. Immigrant rights activists and some labor unions are calling on the nation's undocumented and documented workers to show how important they are to the U.S. economy by being absent. Organizers believe that if millions of immigrants stay away from their jobs and refuse to buy anything for one full day, the U.S. Congress may be able to measure the economic might they hold in this country and pass a favorable immigration policy. But many community leaders worry that an economic boycott could backfire. Juan Jose Gutierrez was the chief organizer of those massive pro-immigrant demonstrations in Los Angeles earlier this spring. He's behind the May 1 boycott. He joins us from New York. Mr. Gutierrez, thanks so much for being with us.
JUAN JOSE GUTIERREZ: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: And Ana Sol Gutierrez, no relation, is a Maryland State Delegate, Democrat from Montgomery County. She joins us in our studios. Delegate Gutierrez, thank you so much for being with us.
ANA SOL GUTIERREZ: It's a pleasure.
SIMON: And if we could begin with you, Mr. Gutierrez, what do you envision happening on Monday?
JOSE GUTIERREZ: We're going to make two very, very important points. The first one is that we want to tell the American people that we are not criminals. We are, rather, workers, men and women who have to get up every morning and work very, very hard for low wages to support our families. And so we do a lot of good to our families, to the nation's economy, to the treasury at the federal, state and local level.
The second point is that we want comprehensive immigration reform that lays out a clear path to legalization and eventual citizenship. And we think that on Monday, the Congress and the President of the United States will get a clear message that they need to fix our broken immigration system.
SIMON: Mr. Gutierrez, let me ask you to talk specifically, though, about the idea of the economic boycott. What do you envision happening with that?
JOSE GUTIERREZ: On Monday, millions of men and women, not just undocumented, but who are residents, who are citizens, but who are clear supporters of the very important social movement, will stay away from work. Students will be staying away from grammar school through university and there will be no buying and no selling of anything. One day without immigrants. A good chunk of the American economy will be affected and I think that that will be the time for all of us in America to reflect that just like every other wave of immigrants, we want to improve our lives; that's why we chose to come to America.
SIMON: Now, Delegate Gutierrez, let me turn to you. I know you and Mr. Gutierrez have been allied on many issues in the past. You don't think the boycott of jobs and services is a good idea on Monday.
JOSE GUTIERREZ: Well, Scott, let me emphasize that we are absolutely united on the main and important issue, comprehensive immigration reform. And here in the Washington area, and I think in the East Coast in general, we're looking at it much more closely to the decision makers that are right in our backyard, and we felt that we needed to put out a message that provided for other tactics, because we fully understand that for many people it's too much of a risk to leave their job. We already know that there were participants in the April 10 March that lost their job. And we are not insisting that people not show up to work, and we're especially, and this is me as an educator, a school board member, we're asking our kids to go to school.
But use that for the teaching moment so that they can talk to not only their friends and colleagues, but to their teachers. And we as public elected officials are really doing many other activities.
SIMON: Activities like?
JOSE GUTIERREZ: We're promoting voter registration. I know I personally will be having a large site for voter registration during the whole day. We're having petitions for the Congress; we're signing resolutions at local government levels. In other words, there are many American apple pie ways in which we can further support the process that is necessary from a political empowerment perspective.
SIMON: Mr. Gutierrez, let me follow up with you in a couple of instances if I can. Firstly, the Delegate's concerns that people who stay away from their jobs might lose them, how would you address that concern?
JOSE GUTIERREZ: Well, in every justice struggle throughout the history of the world and certainly here in the United States, the people who have chosen to stand up for their rights have had to pay a price. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be ruthless employers who will not only threaten, but in fact terminate the employment of all these hardworking men and women who want their voice to be heard.
SIMON: What do you gain by keeping kids out of school on Monday?
JOSE GUTIERREZ: We integrate them into the struggle of their parents. There are kids that I think suffer a great deal collectively when their parents are terrorized every day by the fear that they may not come home to their families because they might be arrested by an immigration agent.
SIMON: Let me ask about this feeling that the time for action is now, because I wonder if the U.S. Congress at least so far shares that perception. Certainly, by declining at least so far to come up with some kind of a conciliation or compromise, they seem to be, at least partially, acting under the instruction that there are a lot of people out there in the United States that, I don't know as they'd say, that things are just fine, but they are willing to, in a sense, limp along with the system now because in the end it does admit some people. It places a premium on security. Delegate Gutierrez?
JOSE GUTIERREZ: Juan Jose, I could not agree with you more as to what is the situation for us. You and I live it everyday with our constituents. But you know, the general American public is not as aware or as concerned. They've been able to live with this current situation because in many cases it serves their benefit. Businesses have cheap labor and you see this attitude that is let's not really deal with the issue. And what has really pushed us over the edge is that when the only repair that is being proposed is more enforcement, criminalization of labor, without any effort to really do the much more comprehensive human reforms that we need, we can't put this off for another year.
SIMON: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Juan Jose Gutierrez represents the Service Employees International Union and is an organizer of Monday's economic boycott. Thanks very much, Mr. Gutierrez.
JOSE GUTIERREZ: Thank you very much.
SIMON: And Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, a member of the Maryland State Legislature, thank you very much.
JOSE GUTIERREZ: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: And the U.S. Senate has yet to reach an agreement on a bill to revamp immigration policy. NPR's Washington Editor Ron Elving explains why at our Web site, NPR.org.
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