Preparing to make a statement on immigrant rights
Immigrant organizations, labor unions, churches and others prepared this morning for a massive Chicago march and rally to legalize the nation's illegal immigrants, a mobilization they predicted would dwarf a March 10 rally in the Loop that drew at least 100,000 participants.
Today's demonstration corresponds with May Day, a worldwide holiday honoring workers. Immigrant advocates have scheduled events in dozens of U.S. cities, including prayer vigils in Washington and the formation of a human chain in Phoenix.
In addition to a broad legalization plan, supporters say they want improved labor protections for immigrant workers and a smoother system for legal immigrants to bring relatives into the U.S.
Chicago organizers have scheduled a 10 a.m. rally at Union Park on the West Side. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and other politicians were scheduled to speak. From there, participants plan to march to Grant Park, where other elected officials and advocates will address the crowd. Cardinal Francis George is scheduled to help lead an interfaith ceremony at Grant Park at 4 p.m.
Related events were scheduled for Cicero, Elgin, Aurora and Joliet and other Illinois cities.
The largely Mexican-American leaders of the marches in Chicago said they hoped today's march and rally event would broaden their base of support.
In addition to the participation of labor unions such as the Service Employees International Union, other ethnic communities planned large-scale involvement for the first time. One of two feeder marches to Union Park before the main march is expected to feature immigrants from Poland, Korea, China, Africa and the Middle East. Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Pilsen to offer the support of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Imams in mosques recruited supporters at Friday prayers, and a Korean group plans to bring busloads of participants.
The events come at a critical time in the controversial immigration debate.
The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would dramatically increase penalties against illegal immigrants and the employers who hire them. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), would also extend a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Senate, meanwhile, has resumed a debate about how to integrate illegal immigrants already in the U.S. Some senators want to grant them temporary work visas and nothing more. Others accept the temporary solution but also want to provide those workers a path to U.S. citizenship.
March organizers hope their sheer numbers will mobilize public opinion about the role of immigrants in the economy. A recent poll found mixed opinions in Chicago—39 percent said illegal immigrants should be able to stay in the U.S. permanently, 26 percent said they should receive temporary-workers status, while 24 percent said they should be forced to return home.
In Chicago, groups that oppose illegal immigration said they did not expect to stage any counterprotests. "How are you going to compete with 500,000 illegal aliens?" said Rick Biesada, a co-founder of the Chicago Minuteman Project. "All the news media is going to be there and they're not going to pay attention to anyone else."
Police have described the immigration rallies as peaceful but advised Chicagoans to brace for gridlock in the Loop, street closings and crowded train platforms. Organizers believe 300,000 to 500,000 people will show up for the rally in Grant Park.
Because many immigrant workers planned to participate, the rally was expected to disrupt businesses across Chicago. Although Chicago organizers did not call for a formal boycott or strike, dozens of restaurants, factories and other job sites said they planned to close for the day to accommodate their workers.