NEIL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
This is May Day, International Workers Day. And this year, it's also the Great American Boycott, or A Day Without Immigrants.
All over the country, immigrants and their supporters hold rallies, marches and boycotts to support legislation that could legalize the status of millions of illegal workers. After a series of surprisingly large demonstrations earlier this year, organizers hoped to mobilize millions.
But there's been a mixed message, as various immigrant supporters groups, local radio stations, churches and others, issue calls to stay in school or join the protest; take the day off from work or not, to fly the flag of Mexico, the United States, or maybe both.
The issue is certain to resonate here in Washington, D.C., where immigration bills are being debated in Congress and politicians look ahead to this fall's elections.
Today, we'll talk with reporters in several cities around the country, and with you. What's happening where you live? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bit later, NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving joins us to gauge the political impact; so you can call with questions about that, as well. Then Joel Kotkin of the New America Foundation joins us on the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page to discuss a piece he wrote in yesterday's Arizona Republic that warns of a possible nativist backlash.
We'll begin in Chicago, where what may be the day's largest demonstration is going on. Michael Puente is a reporter with Chicago Public Radio. He joins us by phone from Grant Park in Chicago.
Thanks very much for being with us.
MICHAEL PUENTE reporting:
Oh, I'm happy to be here.
CONAN: What's going on around you?
PUENTE: Well, we got pretty good numbers--a good size crowd over here at Grant Park in Chicago listening to music; they're flying American flags, Mexican flags. Organizers were expecting up to 300,000 people, but the police department, so far, has not given out a kind of a crowd estimate. So, so far, it doesn't look like there's 300,000 people. Maybe about 50,000, maybe a little bit more than that, but the crowd is building.
CONAN: I understand that some in that crowd are already on their way to a larger demonstration that's supposed to be held later today.
PUENTE: That's right. I know there are several demonstrations throughout the city. The large one is supposed to be here in Grant Park. In fact, as I speak right now, there's a throng of people marching into the park carrying various flags representing different kinds of countries: American, Mexico, but certainly several other Latin American countries. There's also a large contingent of Korean and Chinese and Muslim folks out here, as well.
CONAN: So it's not just a Latino crowd.
PUENTE: Oh, absolutely not. No.
CONAN: Now, I understand that you've taken the trouble to line up a couple of the people there who are ready to speak with us. So, if you wouldn't mind passing the phone around?
PUENTE: Yes, absolutely. Here you go.
Mr. GILBERTO CISNEROS(ph) (Immigrant Rights Demonstrator): Yes, hello.
CONAN: Hello. Who is this?
Mr. CISNEROS: Gilberto Cisneros.
CONAN: Gilberto, this is Neal Conan from National Public Radio. You're on TALK OF THE NATION. Why are you there today?
Mr. CISNEROS: Well, I'm here to support all the immigrants. I am Mexican-American, and I am here supporting all the fellow people here because this is the land of the free. And there's all equal opportunity, and they shouldn't be discriminating individuals for who we are. I mean, since the immigrants built the United States and we all work hard--and we're out together as one. And I'm here supporting everybody.
CONAN: And Gilberto, would you have normally been at work today?
Mr. CISNEROS: As a matter of fact, I work for American Airlines that now that I'm working. I'm off. I took the day off today to support.
CONAN: So you took this day off in order to be there at the rally. Do you know of other people at your job who are taking the day off?
Mr. CISNEROS: As a matter of fact, I have another friend of mine. His name is Raoule Ruby(ph). He works for American Airlines, too. He took the day off to participate and support the people here.
CONAN: Ah-huh. Okay. Thanks very much. Good luck to you. Could you hand the phone back to Michael, please?
Mr. CISNEROS: All right, sure. Thanks.
CONAN: Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Gilberto. Excuse me.
CONAN: Is there somebody else you've got ready for us?
PUENTE: Yes. I have a woman from Chicago by the name of Maria Garcia(ph). Here she is.
Ms. MARIA GARCIA (Immigrant Rights Demonstrator): Hello.
CONAN: Hello, Maria. Nice to have you on the radio.
Ms. GARCIA: Thank you.
CONAN: What are you doing there today? Why is this important to you?
Ms. GARCIA: I'm here to support all the immigrants. I'm Hispanic origin. I was born and raised here in Chicago, but I'm here to support my grandparents and my mother and father. Both came here illegally and now they're citizens. But I don't think it's right for this law to be passed and have separation of families. You know, the government alone came here--when the government allowed the Mexicans to cross the border to produce for the United States--It's United States, I mean, we all should be united, and not, you know, divide families up.
CONAN: Divide families up. So if parents who came here illegally were to be deported back to Mexico, their kids would be on the wrong side of the border. Or you'd have American citizens being deported.
Ms. GARCIA: Right. I mean, it's not like the kids can raise themselves. The parents have to raise them.
CONAN: What would you be doing if you weren't there today in Grant Park?
Ms. GARCIA: I work. I work for Aon, for an insurance company.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And did they…
Ms. GARCIA: I took the day off.
CONAN: You took the day off. Were there a lot of people at the company who did?
Ms. GARCIA: I scheduled it off, so I shouldn't have a problem. And I don't know, you know, as far as how many people in my company took off. But there are a lot of different ethnicities, immigrants that work in my company.
CONAN: You scheduled the day off, you pointed out. There have been problems with people who took time off to attend previous rallies.
Ms. GARCIA: Right.
CONAN: Yeah. Thanks very much. Good luck.
Ms. GARCIA: Thank you.
CONAN: And could turn the phone back to Michael Puente, please?
CONAN: And, Michael, the rally goes on for how long today?
PUENTE: Well, it's supposed to go on till at least four or 5 p.m. And, as we're speaking right now, there're still a number of people just marching in. A lot of children with families. A lot of people. I mean, it almost seems like almost a music festival, as opposed to a large rally.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So the way you're describing it, no hint of violence and no tension in this at all.
PUENTE: Oh, absolutely not. People are out here--they're clapping, they're waving. There's a big stage playing music. Like I said, it's almost a little bit like we're a few weeks away from the Taste of Chicago. You kind of got that feel, but without the smell of the food.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Michael Puente, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
PUENTE: Thank you.
CONAN: Michael Puente is a reporter for Chicago Public Radio joining us from Chicago's Grant Park. And we also spoke with a couple of the demonstrators there.
We'd like to know what's going on where you live, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email us, email@example.com.
And Ronnie(ph). Ronnie is on the line with us from Wichita in Kansas.
RONNIE (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi, Ronnie. What's going on in Wichita today?
RONNIE: Actually, nothing. There was nothing in the paper. I've been to several shops. The people that I normally see, the Hispanics that--I don't know if they're legal or not, but everyone is normally at work. I haven't noticed it's changed our world at all.
CONAN: So the stores are all open. Traffic is about as good or as bad as it normally is?
RONNIE: Yeah. I haven't noticed it in the local news. And because of my job, I've been on the north, south, west and east end of town and I haven't seen a single demonstration, no stores closed. Everything is just same as it always is here in the middle of the country.
CONAN: Ronnie, thanks very much. Good luck.
RONNIE: Thank you.
The immigration protests last April 10th helped to solidify the coalition of immigrants and their supporters. They also served to bolster the anti-illegal immigration side. Counter protestors have taken to the streets today to voice their opposition to measures that would grant, what they describe as amnesty to undocumented workers, and to call for stricter border control.
Valerie Alker is…
(Soundbite of coughing)
CONAN: …excuse me, is a reporter for WGCU Public Radio in Fort Myers, Florida. She attended one of those counter-protests this morning. Joins us now by phone from her office.
Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
VALERIE ALKER reporting:
Nice to be here, Neal.
CONAN: I understand this was a protest organized by a local radio personality. Tell us about it.
ALKER: It was organized by Mandy Connell. She is a conservative talk radio show host on WINK Radio in Fort Myers. About 300-400 people turned out for the counter-rally at Centennial Park in downtown Fort Myers.
CONAN: And how many did turn out?
ALKER: About 300-400 people. But there are also a thousand empty chairs there, and every--those chairs were all purchased by people who support--who supported the counter rally, but couldn't be there because they were working. And each chair had a sign on it that said I'm working, I'm legal, and I vote. And a lot of those people also, in addition to renting the chair, made a donation to the Minute Man's Border Fence project.
CONAN: And that's the group many accuse of being vigilantes, but is in favor of monitoring the border with Mexico and also building fencing along it.
Ms. ALKER: Correct.
CONAN: The demonstration, I understand, is now over. What was it like?
Ms. ALKER It was a lot of speech making. It began with the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Pledge of Allegiance was actually--they were led in the Pledge of Allegiance by a Cuban immigrant who's been in the United States since 1967. And Mandy Connell got up and made a speech. And a couple other local folks did.
Interestingly, there were no--I didn't see any of our county commissioners there, or city council members there. There was one person who's running for a House seat, who was there. But it was a non-political event. And ended with music of Bruce Springsteen, and, you guessed it, it was Born in the U.S.A.
CONAN: You say non-political, I think what you meant probably was non-partisan…
Ms. ALKER: Correct.
CONAN: …neither Republican or Democrat.
Ms. ALKER: Correct, correct.
CONAN: Now, what were the concerns of the people there?
Ms. ALKER: Well, I spoke to one man who said that he has teenage children who can't go out and get an entry-level job at McDonald's because those jobs are all taken by Hispanic immigrants. I spoke to an 87-year-old man who said that, you know, he's worked hard all his life, he's a veteran, he has to pay for his medications and illegals don't, he says.
I spoke to people who were concerned about illegal immigrants filling up our emergency rooms, and thereby impacting the quality of healthcare available to all. And I spoke to people who were concerned about our schools also bearing the burden of illegal immigration.
CONAN: The numbers at this demonstration would suggest that there's a--does that describe a lack of passion, because it seems that this is an electric issue in many places around the country.
Ms. ALKER: Well, Fort Myers isn't a really big town. Although, you know, there was a rally here on April 10, where 80,000 people turned out, and that just really blew everyone's mind. No one was expecting that many people to turn out. So this is a much smaller number than the previous rally.
CONAN: Mm hmm. And did they promise future rallies? Where did they say they're going to take this movement?
Ms. ALKER: Well, actually there was a petition. Everyone who attended was asked to sign a petition to present to members of Florida's legislative delegation, saying that, that Floridians support legal immigration. And so, basically, they're trying to, you know, create public awareness, and perhaps influence the way Florida's lawmakers vote on this issue in Congress.
CONAN: Valerie Alker, thanks very much for being with us, appreciate your time.
Ms. ALKER:: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Valerie Alker, a reporter for WGCU Public Radio in Fort Myers, Florida. She joined us by phone from her office earlier today. She attended a demonstration--counter demonstration if you will, on the day without immigrants.
What's happening where you live? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. When we come back, we'll check in on the political repercussions of today's events. And the immigration bills, where do they stand in Congress? We'll also be talking later in the program on our opinion page with a writer who warns of a nativist backlash.
I'm Neal Conan, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Around the country today, pro-immigration groups are calling for a boycott: no school, no work, no shopping. It's an effort to show Americans how important immigrants are to the country and to the economy. They're also holding rallies, calling on Congress to pass fair immigration reform.
Today, we're talking with reporters covering those rallies and hearing from the demonstrators themselves. What's going on where you live? Give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
And let's go to Ulysses(ph), Ulysses with us in Newport News in Virginia.
ULYSSES (Caller): Yes, Neal, I work in a housing development where there's usually a lot of construction. One of the things that I noticed, it was very--it felt like a ghost town. Maybe we had about five to eight contractors there, but they were all American contractors.
CONAN: A ghost town.
ULYSSES: I went around asking for a couple of contractors, where were they're subs, and they said they decided to take the day off.
CONAN: And they decided to take the day off. So very little work is going on.
ULYSSES: Very little work. I mean, I myself, a Mexican by birth, but I kind of, I had to go to work, and, in a way, I wasn't kind of supportive of the--I was supporting the--what they were trying to do, but when they changed the words to the Star Spangled Banner, that did it for me.
CONAN: Ah, okay. Ulysses, thanks very much.
ULYSSES: You're welcome.
CONAN: Have a great day.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's talk with, this is Eric(ph). Eric's with us from Newport, Rhode Island.
ERIC (Caller): Yeah, hi.
CONAN: How you doing?
ERIC: I'm doing well. It's pretty much business as usual here in Newport. I'm a (unintelligible) pro-reform, but my wife is an immigrant, and she's at work today.
CONAN: Now that's pretty interesting. Why did she decide to go to work today?
ERIC: She went to work because she has a visa stamped in her passport and a green card. She takes offense at the referral of the people who are boycotting today as immigrants, because she would rather hear them referred to as illegals, because she is an immigrant and she has done it right. She has worked hard and spent a lot of time to do it by the numbers. She feels that others should do so also.
CONAN: Okay, and from what you can tell, is Newport functioning pretty close to normally today?
ERIC: Oh yeah, everything is right on track.
CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the call, Eric.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And here's an e-mail we got from Stewart(ph) in Minneapolis: “I just drove the length of Lake Street, Minneapolis' Latino main street, expressly to see if any restaurants or shops might be open. None were. It's a burrito-free Monday in South Minneapolis.”
The mobilization effort behind efforts is impressive, but the question is how much an impact it will ultimately have on legislation and on elections. Joining us now to talk about the political aspects of this issue is Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor. And he's with us here in the studio 3A. Nice to have you on the program as always, Ron.
RON ELVING reporting: Good to be here, Neal.
CONAN: First of all, remind us: the immigration bills in Congress--and I use the plural advisedly--where are they now?
ELVING: Well, there are at least two. There was one passed by the House back in December, which was largely the impetus for all of these marches, and the organization, if you will, of the drive for some kind of immigrant status, or some kind of eventual legal status and citizenship. That's one. That's sitting out there waiting for a companion to join it from the Senate.
The Senate has not passed any legislation. It's considered a number of different pieces. It's currently got a compromise that is percolating along and that the president seems to like, although President Bush has not actually endorsed it, at least not in public. And it has the support of maybe two-thirds of the Senate, maybe slightly more. But that's not quite enough when something is this big. It's going to need a lot of amendments to be proposed and debated on the floor of the Senate. And they may wind up spending a good portion of this month wrangling about that particular compromise on the floor of the Senate before we find out if it passes or not.
CONAN: Mm hmm. A month ago, you predicted that the most likely outcome would be that nothing gets done this year at all. Do you still feel that way?
ELVING: I still think that's probably a little more than a 50 percent probability, Neal. My thought here at this point is that the Senate probably will get some kind of a bill. If you've got this many people who want it, eventually something will pass.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
ELVING: But what that something will be might be, in all likelihood, something that the House just won't touch. And if the House won't come to conference with the Senate, and the two bills remain miles apart, there's nothing for the president to sign.
CONAN: Here's a question that might sound a little bit inside baseball, but bear with me if you will, Ron. Who wants the bill, and who wants the issue?
ELVING: Good question. And one theory, of course, is that the Democrats want the issue, because it's one more way to paint the Republicans into a corner this November--to say, this is a party that can't govern, it's too divided against itself. And moreover, to say this is a party that's just down right anti-immigrant. They don't like new people coming to the country.
And, of course, that's a great oversimplification of the position of even those who oppose the—all of the attempts at some sort of regularization or legalization for immigrants. But that is a saleable issue. It's a position that can be taken if the Republican Party allows itself to be characterized that way.
Now, a historical analogy, just a quick one. Back in 1994, Pete Wilson, who was the governor--Republican Governor of California at the time, signed on to a proposition, 187. People in California all know what I'm talking about. And it was a denial of any public services to the families of people who were here without documents. And, as a result, Pete Wilson caught a wave, got reelected governor of California, but the courts struck down the proposition. And, to a large degree, the Republican Party's been paying a huge price for it ever sense in California, winning hardly any statewide races at all, getting clobbered in the presidential races.
So if that's a kind of precursor for the national situation, it's a huge warning to the Republican Party. You can be for border security, you can be for the rule of law, but if you get perceived as downright anti-immigrant, that's going to kill you.
CONAN: I think we should point out, the only Republican elected statewide in California since the Pete Wilson and 187, of course, is Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself an immigrant. The other question then is how big an issue is this likely to be come November?
ELVING: I think a lot of Republicans are concerned that it may be a big issue among some of their hardcore base. Some of their hardcore base, not by any means all, is more in favor of the House legislation, that's how it got passed in the House. And they feel that what we need is a wall between the pacific and Gulf of Mexico, and they think that the 11 to 12 million people who are here without proper documents ought to be--in some sense, in some sense--rounded up and held to account. Now maybe they don't all get shipped out of the country, but in some sense, they need to be held to account to the rule of law. Now…
CONAN: President Bush says, that's not going to work.
ELVING: He say's its unrealistic. And I think most people would have to agree. You cannot, in any sort of practical way, round up 11 to 12 million people. So what they have at this point is a challenge to keep those who want the law to be enforced and want the border to be absolutely air tight excited about the Republican position on this issue. They don't want to compromise that enthusiasm away, because if those people feel as though the rest of the Republican Party, the business side of the party, if you will, or the president's part of the party, is in favor of--I'm going to put this in quotation marks--“amnesty,” which is how they feel about letting people move towards citizenship without returning to their country of origin, then those people might just stay home in November, and that would be deadly for Republican fortunes in November.
So that's the sense in which the Republicans need a bill, and the Democrats would have something to gain from just having an issue.
CONAN: Stay with us if you would, Ron. If you've got questions about the politics of immigration, nationally or locally, give us a call: 800-989-8255. In the meantime, let's go to John Sepulvado, a correspondent for WUSF in Tallahassee, Florida. He went to Quincy, Florida, today, to see what's going on in the agricultural areas of that state, or at least in one of them.
John, nice to have you on the program today.
JOHN SEPULVADO reporting:
Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: What's going on in downtown Quincy?
SEPULVADO: Not a whole lot. Today's kind of a business as usual for most of the day. For the Latino community, earlier they came to the United Farm Workers headquarters. They made signs that said things like human beings are never illegal. They found out when the immigration--or excuse me, when the rally march was going to be held, and they're going to come back around 5:00 p.m. to conduct that march.
CONAN: And so, a march this afternoon. From what I gather, people are not in the fields working today?
SEPULVADO: Yeah, most people did stay home, which means the mushroom fields and a lot of the floral nurseries are empty today. There's also a large Hispanic businesses in the area. And all of those except for one fruit stand were closed. And that fruit stand was actually giving out free vegetables to all the people that stayed home today.
CONAN: So it sounds like this--pretty important issue for the people there?
SEPULVADO: It is important. The--I guess the biggest question is how it's playing locally among the people who aren't participating in the march. And it seems, for the most part, they're either neutral to it, or they really don't like the idea, and they actually take offense to the march.
And organizers acknowledge that they're not really trying to--they're not going to change a lot of minds, so what they're trying to do is keep the spirits up of this small and tight-knit Latino community.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And there were--there was a demonstration there, as I understand it, back on April 10th that had some negative consequences for some of those who attended.
SEPULVADO: Well, there were rumors that some people got fired in Tallahassee and the outlying areas. There's some questions of whether that actually happened. But there was definitely that weighed heavily on people's minds. And, actually, since I've been here at United Farm Workers, there's been a fax from a legal company--or excuse me, a law firm that tells people what they can do if they're fired during a march.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. So, I understand. Are there any people left there for us to talk to?
SEPULVADO: There's one, she's been waiting for you. She's a 17-year old and she's right here.
CONAN: And--okay, put her on, please.
ADELINE ARSEY(ph): Hi.
CONAN: Hi, who's this?
Ms. ARSEY: My name's Adeline Arsey.
CONAN: Hi Adeline. And this is Neal Conan, TALK OF THE NATION. Tell us, what would you be doing today if you weren't demonstrating?
Ms. ARSEY: Well, I just--I want to be heard and I want to march and, you know, make sure that people hear what I have to say just like every other person that's marching.
CONAN: Would you normally be in school or at work today?
Ms. ARSEY: Yes, I'd be in school, but I didn't go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Where--did a lot of your classmates skip school, as well, to take part in these--this demonstration?
Ms. ARSEY: Yes, most of them did. We're united for this.
CONAN: And how many of the kids in your school are Hispanics, Latinos like you?
Ms. ARSEY: Well, there isn't many, just a couple. I'm not sure about the number, but it's a couple.
CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much, we appreciate your time.
Ms. ARSEY: Okay.
CONAN: And good luck to you.
SEPULVADO: Hello, Neal?
CONAN: Okay, John. Thanks very much, appreciate it.
SEPULVADO: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate. John Sepulvado, a correspondent for WUSF, member station in Florida. And he was in downtown Quincy outside of Tallahassee.
Ron Elving, a lot of symbolism is involved in this. We saw, just the law few days, the dispute over singing the American national anthem in Spanish or in English, the Mexican flag, the American flag, skipping school and skipping work also important to a lot of people.
RON ELVING reporting:
There is an implicit threat of non-cooperation, I think, in some of this. Because absolutely no one, really, is harmed by somebody skipping school, except the person who skips school. No one is really harmed by many of these people staying home from work so much as the person, themselves. They're showing that they're willing to make a kind of personal sacrifice in order to make a statement. To step out of line, as it were, and do something other than what they would normally do for their own benefit.
And I think that that has a certain amount of potential impact on people's consciousness about all of this. But some of the other things that are going on, some of the cultural elements, the talk, for example, about Himno Nuestro, the Spanish-language version of the American national anthem--Star-Spangled Banner.
ELVING: Getting a tremendous amount of attention. One senator from Tennessee, Republican Lamar Alexander is out there this afternoon on the senate floor saying, look, this national anthem, it's written by an English-speaking person, it's written to speak to an English-speaking nation's experience, national historical experience, it ought to be sung in English. And if you don't want to sing it in English, maybe you're missing the point. That sort of thing I think we're going to hear a lot more of, back and forth about what defines America; Is it defined strictly in terms of English, or could it be a bilingual nation? Canada speaks both English and French. Could the United States become a bilingual nation? I think a lot of the political discussion will be framed by cultural questions, as opposed to strictly political, legal, or economic ones.
CONAN: We're hearing from reporters and from callers around the country on a day without immigrants. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get another caller on the line quickly. This is Renee(ph). Renee's with us from San Diego in California.
RENEE (Caller): Yeah, hi. Thanks.
RENEE: Well, obviously, there's a lot going on here, being so close to the border. I was noticing that they said there was a boycott this morning. There was a protest, that is, excuse me, at the Tijuana border and that--I thought it was interesting that the protest is actually in Mexico; so they were blocking something like five of seven lanes of traffic going into the U.S.--not to go to U.S. today. And, apparently, it did slow down traffic a whole lot, something like--in San Ysidro's border they said it was about, typically, 200 vehicles per lane and this morning at rush hour it was about 40. And I am noticing there's a lot less traffic.
CONAN: Well, what about stores and that sort of thing?
RENEE: Yeah, apparently there's a lot--there's stores closed, like some of the smaller luncheon places. There was one fellow who said he was going to lose about, he figured he has 10 employees that aren't going to come to work and he figures he's going to lose about $5,000 because meat suppliers and other produce delivery people aren't working. So the restaurants are saying they're going to lose business. Then some other restaurants claim that it might go up because they're getting clients who normally would go to the closed restaurants.
RENEE: So I find it--it's really interesting where we are because it's almost seen as, obviously, an issue of Mexican immigrants and illegals. And I was just talking to a friend the other day asking what she thought. She's from Kazakhstan and she's a citizen who immigrated and she said--she said her opinion was that she thought illegals, she wanted, like the other fellow said, to be separated as an immigrant and that everyone should have to follow the same laws. Just because perhaps they're Mexican, she doesn't understand why that means they should have special privileges, as she said, to become, you know, when other people of other origins and countries are going through all of the steps that you have to take to become a citizen. So there's a whole lot of mixed feelings here, as you can imagine.
CONAN: Renee, thanks very much.
RENEE: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to Texas. Joining us now is Dave Davies, News Director for Texas Public Radio. He's with us by phone from Milam Park in San Antonio.
DAVE DAVIES reporting: Yeah, hi Neal. How's it going?
CONAN: Pretty good. What's happening there?
DAVIES: Well, right now, things are still in the pre-protest mode. There's still about less than a thousand people in this park in the middle of downtown San Antonio. But by 5:00PM they expect it to be maybe 15,000 people. About a month ago at a similar protest, they had an estimated 18,000 people here, so the crowd should be--is growing, little by little.
CONAN: And any indication whether it's going to be bigger or smaller than what happened there last April?
DAVIES: There's no way of knowing right now. Some people are saying that tensions are higher due to those ICE raids recently, which rounded up illegal immigrants; ICE being the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit. And so they're saying that tensions could be greater and people could be a little more, I don't know, more rowdy.
CONAN: And I understand the organizers were not able to get a parade permit.
DAVIES: There's no parade permit. Last time there was and it just took up the entire streets as they marched. They filled the streets with people. This time, not the case, and they have to stay on the sidewalks. And that's going to be difficult, and because of that they've cut back the parade route, the march route I should say, and it's going to be going straight down one street about eight blocks to Senator John Cornyn's office and trying to make a point with him; although, he won't be there.
CONAN: Cornyn, of course, one of the sponsors in the Senate of legislation that would be cracking down on immigration.
Dave Davies, sounds like you're in for an interesting day. Stay with us. Appreciate it. We'll talk to you later.
DAVIES: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: Dave Davies is news director for Texas Public Radio, and he joined us by phone from Milam Park in San Antonio.
When we come back from a short break, we're going to hear more about Day Without Immigrants rallies and demonstrations around the country, more of your calls, as well. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Also we'll be hearing from Joel Kotkin, who wrote an op-ed piece yesterday warning of a nativist backlash if immigration reform becomes radicalized.
It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: A father in Philadelphia tells his daughter in open court to testify that she saw nothing. Stop snitching t-shirts appear in Baltimore courtrooms.
I'm Neal Conan. Witness intimidation and profound distrust of the system. What's happening and why, next TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.
While Washington and some of its European allies seem intent on isolating the Hamas government in the Palestinian territories, experts say policy may not be sustainable. Foreign aid is being withheld from the Hamas government because it refuses to recognize Israel and to renounce violence.
Prosecutors in the fraud and conspiracy trial of former Enron executives, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Schilling, say Lay ignored employees' concerns about the company's accounting practices just weeks before the company collapsed in 2001.
Details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, gas prices are up, oil companies record record profits, politicians are in a frenzy, calling for rebates, conservation, new technology; can anything bring down the price of gas? That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Today, the debate over immigration on A Day Without Immigrants. Rallies and demonstrations around the country. With us here in Studio A--3A is NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, and let's get another caller on the line. This is Jolla(ph). Jolla is calling us from Berkeley, California.
JOLLA (Caller): Hello.
JOLLA: Thank you for taking my call.
JOLLA: My question, actually, has to do with--in the process that everyone is so concerned about on how and why people are here illegally, who is talking about the number of visas that we issue and how that plays into the problem. If people have to wait for years before they can be considered for a visa and then wait for years before, you know--that it takes to go through the process; we still have the jobs here and they're still there. So how is that being discussed?
CONAN: I think, Ron Elving, cumbersome is a generous way to describe that process.
ELVING: It is indeed, and it is not really designed, in the end, for the people that it serves. It's designed to keep a control, to keep a grip.
ELVING: To have the government be able to say, we are, in some sense or another, determining who may and may not enter the country. And that works as long as everyone, more or less, recognizes its legitimacy and cooperates. But if employers and would-be workers are much more eager to move ahead with a transaction, then the visa process can accommodate, then, at some point or other, they're going to go around the visa process. That's been the experience of many countries, not only our own country, but, particularly, the experience of open societies, such as ours. And that's related to some degree what is on the table here. Can we continue to be an open society in the fashion that we've been for 200-and-some-odd-years under the kind of pressure that we're under today, with people coming from all parts of the world and, particularly, from Mexico right on our border, right on our doorstep.
CONAN: Jolla, thanks for the call.
JOLLA: Thank you.
CONAN: On Friday, California state senators approved a resolution that endorsed today's protests and boycotts. California is a state that would, of course, be heavily impacted by any legislation that affects the status of illegal immigrants. Joining us now, NPR correspondent Richard Gonzales, with us by phone from Market Street in San Francisco. Good to have you on the program, Richard.
RICHARD GONZALES reporting:
Hello Neal. How are you?
CONAN: I'm well. What's going on around you?
GONZALES: I'm standing at the edge of a very large crowd here at Market Street where it meets (unintelligible). The march here is just beginning to depart up Market Street, where they will travel to the Civic Center where they are fixed for a rally at about 1:00PM--that's 4:00PM your time. There are tens of thousands of people here. I don't have a good fix on exactly how many. I have not yet seen any law enforcement officials to consult about the estimate of the crowd, but I can tell you it's all generations wearing—it's just a sea of white t-shirts emblazoned with the American flag with slogans like (speaking Spanish), we are here, and (speaking Spanish), we are staying; I saw another t-shirt that said, I said legalization not segregation. And they have a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There's a sense of trying to invoke the days of civil rights protests in U.S. history.
CONAN: And we're having a little trouble hearing you, Richard, because of the singing in the background. Tell us what that is.
GONZALES: There are--I'm standing about 75 yards away from the main stage. I thought it was the efficient state for me to be able to communicate with you, but there is a band on the stage singing while the marchers are departing for Civic Center.
CONAN: And is this a diverse crowd? Is it mostly Latinos?
GONZALES: This is mostly Latinos. I had anticipated we would see other ethnic groups, other immigrant groups here, Asians--in fact, there was talk about some groups of Irish immigrants would appear and it's very possible they are here, but, from I am standing, I cannot identify them.
CONAN: All right, Richard.
GONZALES: Very large crowd.
CONAN: Have a great time.
GONZALEZ: Thank you Neal.
CONAN: NPR correspondent Richard Gonzales with us from Market Street in San Francisco.
Let's get one last caller on the line. This is John(ph). John's with us from Redding, California.
JOHN (Caller): Yeah, good morning to you. How are you?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
JOHN: The--I noted that your correspondent said that he was looking at signs that indicated, we are here and we are going to stay here. Neal, there's a critical issue at stake here, and everyone seems to give mouth service to it. But the fact of the matter is that in any society that exists for any length of time, there is one critical element; that is law.
If, in fact, what you do if you take the law into your own hands--you break the law--in a court of law you don't have what's called standing. And standing, by definition, gives you then the opportunity or the right, if you will, to bring a cause of action or to bring your--whatever your circumstance may be to the court, so that it can be adjudicated and people can make their decisions in that regard.
I'll give you a perfect example from my perspective. California--I'm in California. California has historically always been at the top echelon of attainment for high school graduating seniors in this country. California now registers just above Louisiana at the very bottom of that echelon of attainment. A presumed (unintelligible).
The--we have an educational system here that is in absolute shambles and it is primarily because of illegal immigrants. If you can't educate people--the only way you can educate people is to communicate with them, clearly. That's what you're doing, and thank goodness for you and NPR. But the fact of the matter is, if you attempt to educate people in your school system and you can't speak to them by the necessity being that you want to educate them by speaking the English language, and they don't understand that language and can't communicate with you, it has a two-fold edge. It doesn't give them an education, and it diminishes the amount of education that the children here, in this country, who do speak the language, who are here, can take advantage of. We're killing this educational system.
CONAN: John, we're going to focus on immigration and education another day. Today, we're trying to find out what's going on around the country.
JOHN: Well, here, Neal, I'll tell you. In terms of the far reaches of northern California, this might as well be people on camels, if you will. The Jinjaweed, or whatever. It's complete irrelevancy up here. There are nobody--there's nobody on the street. There's nobody making any indication that there's any support for this type of, if you will, boycott or demonstration.
CONAN: Okay, John. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
JOHN: You're welcome.
CONAN: Let's see if we can talk quickly with Mahoney(ph). Mahoney's been patient on the line from Sausalito, California.
MAHONEY (Caller): Hello.
MAHONEY: Thank you for taking my call, Neal.
MAHONEY: I manage a restaurant in downtown Sausalito by the name of Wind Ships(ph), and we are closed since we had a meeting on Friday to discuss what we were going to do. And all the staff were definitely--all the Latino staff were definitely in favor of taking the day off to show their opposition to the Sensenbrenner amendment.
CONAN: That's the bill in the House of Representatives. But go ahead.
MAHONEY: That's right. But you can't blame them when you think about the fact that, if that had passed, it would have made them all felons and divided their families up. And that got their attentions, and so, as a result, we've had a lot of rallies, of course, that were conducted last week, and they all--everybody is getting the idea that this is how the message is going to be put across. And so…
CONAN: A lot of restaurants are normally closed on Mondays. Is this going to make a big difference for you?
MAHONEY: Well, actually, not in Sausalito. Most of them are usually open. And there are a few that are closed, some that are open, but generally, overall, the traffic in the downtown is pretty slow. And I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the immigration rallies that are taking place over in the city.
May I ask, you know, I was thinking of the fact that there's a component that's been missing in this whole discussion as far as the--to be able to have documentation that is reliable; I think that when the legislators consider this, they should consider how that's going to be enforced. How can you enforce it when the documents are so easily forged in…
CONAN: Well that's another controversial piece of legislation by Mr. Sensenbrenner, the Real ID Act. And, again, a subject for another day, Mahoney. But we appreciate the thought. Thank you very much for being with us.
MAHONEY: Oh, thanks for taking me.
CONAN: And we wanted to also thank NPR's Ron Elving for being with us here in studio 3A, NPR's senior Washington editor who has the misfortune to have his office right next to our studio. We bother him all the time.
Ron, thanks very much.
ELVING: Thank you, Neal. Always a pleasure.
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