[URBANTH-L]FNS Special Report: A Review and Assessment

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Thu May 11 11:33:48 EDT 2006

May 10, 2006

Immigration News 

May Day 2006: Initial Assessments

Nobody really knows how many people participated in
the May Day pro-immigrant legalization protest that 
shook North America and beyond. Very conservative 
media estimates speak about 1 million people just in 
the United States, while other media stories and 
pro-immigrant organizers estimate many millions more. 
Whatever the numbers, May Day was a spike in a new 
movement that remarkably, in only a couple months, 
turned the immigration reform debate in the US on 
its head, galvanized a new generation of youth
activists, spread across borders, and even pumped 
new life into corporate anti-globalization movements 
that declined in the wake of September 11, 2001. 
For the first time in decades, the idea of a general 
strike was popularized in the United States.

Perhaps the best gauge of how deeply the protest cut
into the political fabric is not measured by the
mega-marches in Los Angeles or Chicago that each 
drew 500,000 people or more, but by the actions in 
almost anonymous settings throughout the United 
States, places usually not known for their political 
fervor. In small towns like Tooele, Utah, and 
Rockdale, Texas, immigrant workers and students 
demonstrated for legalization. In the self-proclaimed
chile (hot pepper) capital of the world of Hatch, 
New Mexico, a dozen students walked out of the 
village's small high school- much to the chagrin of 
a local Baptist minister. 

Originally billed as a mass strike and consumer
boycott against HR 4437, the Sensenbrenner 
immigration bill passed by the US House of 
Representatives last December, and in support of 
the legalization of undocumented workers, May 
Day 2006 unfolded in a variety of forms, 
assuming different characteristics depending on the 
locale, degree of organization and practical 
possibilities. Some people went to work or school 
and attended rallies and marches later in the day. 
Others stayed home. Some shunned the shopping
malls and gas stations. Organized at first by US
activists, support for the action quickly spread to 
Mexico and Central America. 

U.S. Actions

Initial assessments of May Day's impact in the US are 
mixed, ranging from critics who dismissed the action
as a misguided adventure that will backfire to movement 
organizers who characterized the day a great, historic
success. Some pro-immigrant forces, most notably the
Roman Catholic Church and long-time, Washington, 
D.C.-based Latino civil rights groups urged people to 
go to work and school and then participate in mass 
rallies  But by May Day, the call for a strike and 
boycott had acquired a life of its own, surpassing the 
ability of traditional organizations to control it. 

Word of the protest spread from person-to-person,
computer- to-computer and neighborhood-to-
neighborhood. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, 
big companies like Malone's Cost Plus in Dallas 
announced they were allowing workers to take the 
day off and participate in the protest.  

Shut-downs, whether with employer consent or not,
affected strategic sectors of the US economy including
California agriculture, Pacific Coast shipping and Florida 
construction. According to an economist with the Los 
Angeles Development Corporation, an estimated $200
million dollars in revenue could have been lost on May 1 
in Los Angeles County alone. Rumors of mass 
immigration law enforcement raids that did not materialize 
also may have contributed to workplace shutdowns. 
Probably numbering in the thousands, an undetermined 
number of businesses nationwide closed their doors for 
the day in solidarity with the movement. In Albuquerque, 
NM, popular businesses like Taco Tote and El Mezquite 
market displayed signs announcing their closure. 

A post-May Day poll quoted on Univision found that 65 
percent of Latino participants did not work on Mayday,
while 95 percent reported not buying anything on the 
boycott day. Most visibly, the huge US rallies and
marches, drawing from several thousand to the hundreds 
of thousands of people, displayed the potential might of 
what many call "the sleeping giant" of Latino political 
power. At a large Albuquerque rally that drew several 
thousand people, signs included:  "We are Indigenous 
People of the Southwest, Not Immigrants," "Mr. Bush: 
Respect our 1848 Treaty Mexico USA," "Build Schools, 
Not Borders," "We Pick, We Cook, Serve Your Food," 
"Justice for Immigrants," and simply "Viva La Raza." 

A long-time US resident from Ecuador who worked for 
10 years in Alaskan mines, David Rodriguez said May Day
had been a long time coming. "I've lived in the US for 30
years and you never used to see these kinds of 
demonstrations 30 years ago," Rodriguez said. "There 
weren't demonstrations of this kind, or organization. 
Certainly, this is a power that still needs to be organized 
more..we still got a little ways to go."   

May Day wasn't exclusively a Latino issue, though.  In
Chicago, large numbers of Chinese, Polish, Irish and
other immigrants joined the protest, while in Denver,
members of the American Indian Movement took part 
in a mass rally that drew perhaps 75,000 people. The 
indigenous activists aimed their criticisms at politicians 
like Colorado Rep. Tam Tancredo, protesting what 
they charged was a Washington power monopoly on 
deciding the destinies of millions of people. "This is a 
rally about the future of the Americas," said Colorado 
AIM leader Glen Morris. 

Controversy erupted over the boycott, once again 
underscoring class differences and conflicting
economic interests in the pro-legalization movement. 
Credited for boosting turn-outs at earlier events in 
March and April, Spanish-language commercial media, 
which is obviously dependent on advertising revenues, 
emerged as the leading voice against boycotts. The 
Spanish-language television monopoly Univision even 
followed up May Day with a news story that featured a 
spokesperson from Los Angeles' Carecen immigrant 
rights advocacy organization who criticized the 
boycott tactic as ineffective. 

No counter point of view was presented in the report,
even though boycotts, a curious omission, since in the 
case of the United Farm Workers Union's grape and 
lettuce boycotts of past decades or  the Florida 
farmworkers' boycott of Taco Bell more recently,  
tangible results have been  yielded.  

Mexico's Day of Solidarity  

Spreading on the Internet, the message for solidarity
with US immigrants on May Day produced mass 
marches and rallies, international bridge shut-downs 
and scattered boycotts of US businesses and franchises 
in Mexico. As in the United States, the actions were 
not coordinated by a single organization south of the 
border, and involved unions, students, former braceros, 
indigenous groups, and others. A few days before May 
Day, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies passed a 
resolution backing the US immigrant protest. 
May Day solidarity actions were strongest in the
northern border region. In Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, 
200 protestors got a head start on others when they 
closed a Wal-Mart store for 10 minutes on April 30. 
The next day, in bridge blockades ranging from 15 
minutes to several hours, different groups closed 
international crossings in Tijuana-San Diego, Tecate, 
Mexicali-Calexico, Ciudad Juarez-El Paso, Nuevo 
Laredo-Laredo, Reynosa-Hidalgo, and Matamoros- 
Brownsville. Downtown El Paso, which is largely 
dependent on shoppers from neighboring Ciudad 
Juarez, was reported largely deserted with 75 
percent of its stores closed.
Students, ex-braceros, merchants and others
participated in the actions. In Mexicali, former 
braceros marched to the city's "La Pagoda" building 
to symbolize Mexican-Chinese unity. 

In the interior, May Day had a more scattered impact. 
Despite the boycott call, brisk business was reported
at Wal-Mart and other US-brand establishments in 
Mexico City. Some shoppers said they couldn't afford 
to lose a shopping day on traditional work holiday, 
while others claimed they did not know about the 

Messages of solidarity were voiced at several mass 
May Day rallies and traditional parades in the capital 
city, including one protest outside the US Embassy led 
by Zapatista Subcomandante Marco. Linking the 
migrant struggle with other causes, Marcos declared 
the real struggle was for a new society in which people 
would not have to live their homes in search of work.  

In Toluca near Mexico City, meanwhile, Mazahua
indigenous women marched into a McDonald's 
restaurant and offered free tortillas and traditional 
Mexican food to customers. In one of Mexico's newer 
migrant expelling regions, the Yucatan Peninsula, an 
estimated 200,000 indigenous Mayans reportedly 
supported the boycott. Masses in honor of migrants 
were held in some Yucatan municipalities, and a 
group of protestors burned cartons of US products
outside the US Consulate in Merida. Over on the 
Pacific Coast, residents of San Marcos, Guerrero, 
dressed up in white and staged a march in support of 
their 25,000 relatives neighbors who work in El Norte. 

May Day also was an occasion for the American 
Chamber of Commerce in Mexico and the Mexican 
franchise holders to stake out their positions. While 
generally agreeing with the need for immigration reform, 
the business groups argued, not surprisingly, against the 
consumer boycott tactic. The NAFTA-linked business 
sector leaders emphasized how US businesses and 
franchises employed Mexicans and used Mexican 
ingredients in their products. 

Central America Joins in Too

Even more dependent on migrant money from the US 
than Mexicans, Central Americans massively supported 
the May Day actions. Marchers raised the migrant banner 
in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa 
Rica, and Panama. Like others, Salvadoran Benito 
Martinez said that "almost everybody" from his family is 
now living and working in the US. 

The pro-migrant movement generated support across the 
political spectrum from left to right, showing how
mass emigration has transformed and influenced the
post-Cold War Central American political scene. 
Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos and Sandinista 
Front leader Daniel Ortega both spoke out in support of 
the US immigrant movement, while Rene Figueroa, an 
interior ministry official from the conservative National 
Republican Alliance government in El Salvador, gave his 
verbal support. El Salvador's largest leftist party, the 
former guerrilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation 
Front, dedicated its 2006 May Day march to US 

Like their Mexican counterparts, business associations
in Central America slammed the boycott. Jose Raul
Gonzalez, the vice-president of Central America's Pepsi 
bottler, said, "Consumers do not know that this 'gringo'
product is as Guatemalan as they are; the only thing gringo 
is the brand."  Gonzalez and other business spokespersons 
did not disclose how much money Pepsi and other 
multinational companies earn for the rights of using their 
name and business structure. 

In both Mexico and Central America, many of the pro-
immigrant May Day protests also brought up the NAFTA
and CAFTA trade agreements, low salaries, high energy
costs, and other economic grievances. "CAFTA, as well 
as the neo- liberal measures imposed by the US and the
International Monetary Fund are directly responsible for 
the unemployment and migrations," declared Honduran 
opposition leader Carlos Reyes. "Therefore, the US has 
the obligation not to deport (migrants) but to welcome 
them, and not to criminalize their migratory status."  

May Day's Possible Impacts  

US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist dismissed the May
Day protests as not carrying any potential weight in the 
immigration reform legislation debate, but others are 
confident the echoes of May Day will be heard when the
US Senate takes up the stalled legislation this month.
Anti- legalization forces are wagering that a backlash
to seeing Mexican flags waving in the streets will help
forestall any reforms smacking of amnesty.  

A CNN poll released this week reported that sympathy
for immigrants had dropped from 70 percent of respondents
in April to 57 percent in May. Pro-legalization
organizations, on the other hand, are betting their newly-
displayed strength will produce positive results. How the 
negotiations between a Senate bill and the Sensenbrenner 
HR 4437 House legislation pan out in the days ahead is
the big question. Still in doubt is whether any legislation at
will be approved by both houses of Congress and signed 
by President Bush in an election year. 

Eligibility for green cards, guestworkers and border 
security provisions will be among the key sticking points. 
Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a former US Border Patrol 
chief, said it's almost certain that the massive border 
wall and undocumented immigrant criminalization
aspects of the Sensenbrenner bill are dead.  If Reyes is 
correct, the new pro-immigrant movement can claim a 
great, first victory. 
Analysts will be carefully watching the electoral 
repercussions of the pro-immigrant movement in the
2006 and 2008 elections. Many of today's protestors are 
US citizens- and current or potential voters- who turned 
out to support their relatives and friends. A common slogan 
in protests across the nation was: "Today We March, 
Tomorrow We Vote." And with a new generation politicized, 
May Day's winds of change could well expand beyond the 
arena of electoral politics. 

Jorge Mujica, a leader of Chicago's March 10 Coalition, 
assessed the mass movement as the beginning of a new 
international worker movement not just limited to 
legalization, but one advocating for "better working 
conditions" as well. On an international scale, May Day 
2006 showcased "the first big revolutionary movement
of the 21st Century," Mujica contended.  

Arguably, May Day was the third big wave of cross-
border movements in recent years. The anti-World Trade 
Organization protests of the late 1990s and the anti-Iraq 
war demonstrations of early 2003 could be considered 
precursors to today's movement because of the way they 
rapidly leaped across borders in support of the same
cause. In another important sense, May Day 2006 is the 
latest example of the reemergence of civil society as a 
vital actor on national political stages, a development 
also witnessed in the French student strikes, the Nepalese
pro- democracy movement and the large demonstrations
in Puerto Rico that could culminate in a general strike in 
the coming days in protest of a government fiscal melt-

Additional sources: El Paso Times, May 2 and 8, 2006. 
Articles by Vic Kolenc and Louie Gilot. La Jornada,
April 30, 2006; May 2, 3, 4, 7, 2006. Articles by Juan
Balboa, David Brooks, Alfredo Mendez Ortiz, the DPA 
news agency, and editorial staff. Latin America Data Base 
(UNM) , May 4, 2006. Proceso/Apro, May 2, 2006. 
Articles by Rodrigo Vera, Gabriela Hernandez and Jose 
Palacios Tepate. Latino USA/KUNM, May 8, 2006. 
Independent Native News/KUNM, May 2, 2006. CNN, 
May 2, 2006. Univision, April 28 and 30, 2006; May 2, 
3, 5, 8, 9, 2006. El Universal, April 27 and 30, 2006; 
May 1 and 2, 2006. Articles by Maria Teresa Montano, 
Rubelio Fernandez, Roberto Aguilar Grimaldo, Francisco
Resendiz, Jorge Herrera, Juan Cedillo, and the Notimex
news agency. Associated Press, May 1, 2006. Articles by
Mark Stevenson and Michael Kahn. Albuquerque Journal, 
May 2, 2006. Article by Debra Dominguez-Lund Frontera, 
May 1, 2006. La Cronica, May 1, 2006. Article by Hugo
Ruvalcaba. lapolaka.com, May 1, 2006. enlineadirecta.info, 
May 1, 2006. El Sur, May 2, 2006. Articles by Karenine 
Trigo and Zacarias Cervantes. El Diario de Juarez, May 1, 
2006.  Articles by Ramon Chaparro.  

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border
news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New
Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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