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“A Silent People Will Never be Heard”–Tens of Thousands March for Immigrant Rights in New York

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Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in New York Saturday in support of immigrant rights in what has been described as the largest rally of its kind in the city. We speak with some of the marchers about why they took to the streets. [includes rush transcript]

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in New York Saturday in support of immigrant rights in what has been described as the largest rally of its kind in the city. The crowd stretched more than a mile as demonstrators marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to rally at a federal office building in Lower Manhattan.

With the Statue of Liberty in the background, marchers waved flags from more than a dozen countries, including the Stars and Stripes–and chanted slogans including “el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” the people united will never be defeated, and “el pueblo callado jamas sera escuchado”, a silent people will never be heard. A large number of those who marched Saturday were undocumented immigrants.

Democracy Now! covered the march on Saturday and spoke with some of the demonstrators about why they were taking to the streets.

  • Immigrant rights demonstrators speaking in New York City, April 1, 2006.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Democracy Now! covered the march on Saturday and spoke with some of the demonstrators about why they were taking to the streets.

ROSIA MARQUEZ: My name is Rosia Marquez, and I’m here because — to give a little support for these people. We are here, because we want to send a message to the people, to everybody, that people are not criminals. All what they want is a better life. All what they want is to work and have a decent place to live. That’s all, and I think that everybody, every human being deserves that. It doesn’t matter where they are from or what the situation — economical situation it is, everybody wants something better.

DEMONSTRATOR: I served in the United States Army for ten years. I’m first generation Hispanic, but I feel like an immigrant. I served this country honorably for ten years, and still this country was based on the fact that everyone came from somewhere else, so we shouldn’t try to get these people out. We should welcome them. Besides, it would be hypocritical to shove democracy on the Arabs, and we’re going to close the borders of this country. You know, it’s one of those things. The only people that really belong here are the Native Americans. Those are the only ones. Anything other than that should be allowed to stay as long as they abide by the laws.

MAYRA HERNANDEZ: My name is Mayra Hernandez, and I work here representing for this immigrant rights. We are from Columbia University School of Social Work. And basically why I’m here is because, well, my father was — in the 1970s came as an undocumented worker. He is not — I mean, even though these issues don’t affect me directly right now, it’s my people, and it’s my background. These laws are only a form of bringing back slavery. We say that slavery is gone, but it’s not. When you want to bring people into this country to work and exploit them with no benefits, what is that saying? That’s another form of slavery.

EDDIE: I’m Eddie. I came for my mom, because she wants papers. She wants to see her family in Mexico. That’s why we came together.

ELIZABETH PRESS: Can you tell me what your sign says?

EDDIE: What?

ELIZABETH PRESS: Can you tell me what your sign says?

EDDIE: “I am American, and I love my family. Please no discrimination.”

AMY GOODMAN: Sounds of the streets of New York this weekend. Our guests are David Bacon, veteran labor journalist, and Professor Ron Walters. Juan, you were also there covering this protest.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, and the amazing thing is that there haven’t been very many estimates of the crowd. I would say, having been to many demonstrations over decades, that this was easily 50,000 to 100,000 people, and the amazing thing is it wasn’t really organized by many of the sort of normal Washington-based or New York-based immigrant groups. This was actually a grassroots effort by the Pentecostal churches and by a few more locally based immigrant groups in the city, and because the organized labor movement and the big immigrant groups were all planning their big march for April 10, and this one really surged up unexpectedly, because people were watching Spanish language television and radio. I would have to say it was probably the largest march of Latinos in the history of New York City, even though it was not all Latinos. There were Chinese and Koreans and Irish and Guyanese, as well, but it was largely Latino.

But I would like to get back to David Bacon and this whole issue of the labor market in the U.S. One of the things I haven’t seen in this debate is the connection to the reality of why there are so many immigrants here in the United States at this stage, so many undocumented, and also that the reality is that 60% of all of the undocumented immigrants in the country are Mexican and that, to large degree, this immigration situation has to do with the failure of NAFTA, the common market that the United States created vis-à-vis — and the differences between that and, for instance, the European Common Market. I would like your thoughts on that.

DAVID BACON: Well, actually, I think it’s the success of NAFTA, Juan. It was a very successful agreement for people who made a lot of money out of it. But it had a terrible impact on working people in Mexico, just dumping, you know, cheap U.S. corn on the Mexican market deprived thousands of Mexican farmers of a livelihood, and, of course, people when they have no way of making a living do what’s necessary to support their families. In a lot of cases people came to the United States. So NAFTA provoked immigration to the U.S. rather than lifting living standards in Mexico, which might have given people, you know, more of a future in their own communities.

But in terms of what we could do here about that, about the labor market, I think one of the most interesting things about Sheila Jackson Lee’s bill in Congress is that it is really the only bill that tries to deal with this question of job competition that you mentioned, yourself, earlier, because she tries to find common ground between immigrants and people who are long-term residents or citizens in the U.S., whether African American or white or Chicano or Latino, themselves, by, on the one hand, offering, I think, a real legalization program to people; in other words, saying that people who have been in the country for five years would get green cards and protecting the rights of immigrants, but then going on to say that in order to deal with high unemployment in communities of high unemployment, that some of the fees that would be paid by people gaining legal status would be used to set up job training and job creation programs in communities with high unemployment, and while you can say that, you know, certainly to deal with unemployment in the U.S., especially unemployment in the poorest communities of color, requires more money than just that, I think what’s significant about that is that she is trying to find common ground.

And it’s, I think, a testament to Jackson Lee and to the Congressional Black Caucus that the most progressive immigration bill in Congress comes from African Americans and on — I think it’s kind of a scandal that there is no media coverage of this bill and that we are sort of reduced to debating between these — what essentially are two very negative alternatives: either criminalizing everybody who is here without papers or turning everybody into an exploited guest worker labor force. That’s not much of a freedom alternative, and it’s certainly not one that would guarantee any kind of equality for immigrants in the U.S.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Ron Walters, your sense of how this debate will play out over the next week? I think Majority Leader Bill Frist is insisting he wants a vote this week on the competing bills in the Senate.

RON WALTERS: First, I would agree with what David said. I think that you also have to understand that that bill that Sheila Jackson Lee put in, 43 members of Congressional Black Caucus only attracted the support of nine members. And so, that gives you some sense of the underlying angst in the black community about this whole matter. I think that when you look at the Republicans, you’ve got to say that they are split, because on the one hand there is a group that takes sort of a law and order approach to everything, and they want to criminalize the problem, and then the others, of course, are in bed with big business, the people who really benefit from immigration, particularly the kind of immigration we are talking about. And so, that split, as far as I’m concerned, means that you’re probably not going to have a bill this time, because I think the fissures are too deep in the leading party that really has to form the legislation.

I would think, though, that the progressive community really ought to look at the interests of this administration and the interest of big business, because we are down here talking about the interest of one organization or another in the black and in the Hispanic community and so forth, and looking at the mobilization of grassroots people. Well, the people really who are moving all of this around are at the top. When you ask the question, you know, whose interests are being benefited by this, you’ve got to say that it is the people who formed the system that allows this immigration to go unchecked, who wink and nod the other way, and who now are trying to put together a piece of legislation, who will simply make it possible for big business to continue to exploit these workers.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bacon, as you cover this issue as a veteran labor journalist, do you see an increasing divide between Latinos and African Americans, or do you see people coming together on this issue?

DAVID BACON: I see people coming together, Amy, for two reasons. One is I think that there is common ground here, which is basically a recognition that all people need equal rights here. I think there’s a lot of respect out there for the people who are turning out into the streets, who are not activists. They’re just ordinary working people who are looking for some measure of freedom and equality, and I think that people in general in our society, especially African American people, can recognize that. Plus, I think that there is also a more immediate common ground, which is to say that on the one hand, we need equal rights for everybody that’s here and to protect those rights, especially for immigrants, because they are under attack right now, but we also need economic development.

We need jobs, basically. Everybody in this country needs to work. Immigrants need jobs. African American people need jobs. We all need jobs. So if we could fight for a jobs program and full employment as the Humphrey-Hawkins Act would have done back in the 1980s and early 1990s, and we fight for the rights of immigrants, that’s a real solution. Not these, as Ron is talking about, these pro-corporate guest worker programs. You know, the guest worker proposals are being made by the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, which is a group of 40 of the largest industrial associations in the United States, headed by the Chamber of Commerce, including people like Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods. That’s who’s behind it. This isn’t — you don’t see people out on Brooklyn Bridge holding up signs saying, “I want to be a guest worker.”

AMY GOODMAN: David Bacon and Ron Walters, we are going to have to leave it there. David Bacon, a veteran labor journalist, Ron Walters, Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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