Immigrant Marches Planned for Labor Day Weekend

Activists are holding a new round of immigration marches, starting this Labor Day weekend. The largest marches are planned for Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. The message they hope to send: immigrants are voters, too.

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A new round of mass immigration marches will take place, beginning this Labor Day weekend. The marches are timed to when Congressmen return to Washington, even though many consider the House and Senate to be hopelessly deadlocked over immigration legislation. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN reporting:

The biggest marches are planned for Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, and Washington D.C. Activists fanned out to Hispanic church services this past Sunday to promote turnout. And radio stations, again, have taken up the cause.

(Soundbite of Spanish Language radio)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LUDDEN: This promo in the Washington area, suggests people wear a white shirt and carry the U.S. flag as they, quote, demand legalization for all, and a stop to deportations.

(Soundbite of Spanish language radio)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LUDDEN: Do it for your family, your friends, and your future, it says. Be a part of history.

Jaime Contreras is a key rally organizer with the Service Employees International Union. He says the marches will not support a wide-ranging Senate immigration bill. He calls its legalization program too limited and so unworkable. Instead, Contreras says, the marches will carry a broader message.

Mr. JAIME CONTRERAS (Rally Organizer): We have shown, as a movement, power in numbers. We have shown that we have economic power. Now we got to show something different. Now we have to show that we have voting power.

LUDDEN: To that end, immigrant groups have spent this summer waging a nationwide voter registration drive, hoping to influence this fall's midterm elections. Joshua Hoyt, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, calls immigrants the new soccer moms and NASCAR dads.

Mr. JOSHUA HOYT (Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Illinois): The numbers of naturalized immigrants in, for example, the key race for Henry Hyde's seat, has gone up 50 percent - from 60,000 to over 90,000. Those are immigrants who can vote.

LUDDEN: But hitting the streets again to show potential voting power is a risky strategy. Mark Krikorian is with the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants lower immigration levels. Like a number of conservative commentators, he finds the very idea of these immigrant demonstrations audacious.

Mr. MARK KRIKORIAN (Center for Immigration Studies): The fact is that people who are not members of the household, members of the family, have no business issuing demands to the American people. It's just morally wrong.

LUDDEN: Krikorian says the marches also created a backlash, and after the spring rallies, polls did show a dip in public support for the immigrants' cause.

Mr. ANTONIO GONZALEZ (William C. Velasquez Institute): Well, we're all concern about backlash, but that doesn't mean you don't march.

LUDDEN: Antonio Gonzalez heads the William C. Velasquez Institute. He asks: how can immigrants not speak out again, since, he says, members of Congress have spent all summer demagoguing(ph) against them.

Mr. GONZALES: The growth of very virulently anti-immigrant - both politicians and civic activity - requires a response.

LUDDEN: Since July, numerous House subcommittees have traversed the country holding field hearings aimed at rousing opposition to any legalization. The events have largely fallen off the radar of the National Media, but they've generated local coverage, like this recent Houston TV report that featured the testimony of a tearful mother.

(Soundbite of TV report)

Unidentified Woman: Yes, the borders need to be secure, and yes you need to do something about this.

Unidentified Announcer: Carrie(ph) Reece's(ph) 17-year-old daughter Felicia(ph) was violently killed by an undocumented immigrant in 1999…

LUDDEN: Activist Joshua Hoyt says House members are only hearing half the story. So, after their march this weekend in Illinois, immigrant groups there are going to hold their own hearing.

Mr. HOYT: There're going to be people speaking who've lost family members working for the desert. There're going to be people speaking who have seen family members been deported. There're going to be people speaking who've been waiting 23 years to bring family members from a place like the Philippines.

LUDDEN: Hoyt hopes such voices can be part of the wider debate as the nation heads into an election season with illegal immigration a leading campaign issue. Jennifer Ludden NPR News, Washington.

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