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May Day 2007: Hundreds of Thousands March for Immigrant Rights

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Hundreds of thousands of immigrants took to the streets on Tuesday in protests in dozens of cities across the country. Calls focused on demanding a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, ending immigrant raids and deportations, and rejecting anti-immigrant legislation. We speak with organizers of the day’s two largest protests: Los Angeles and Chicago. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: For the second year in a row, May Day featured a massive display of solidarity for immigrant rights in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country. Marches were held in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Denver, Milwaukee, Phoenix and New York.

MIRIAM CANAL: We have to accomplish all the rights that we deserve, not only as immigrants, but also as people and human beings.

AMY GOODMAN: Calls focused on demanding a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, ending raids and deportations that have divided entire families, rejecting anti-immigrant legislation and thwarting the continued militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border.

Although the May Day events went off mostly without incident, one major confrontation took place in Los Angeles. An evening protest was disrupted when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands gathered in MacArthur Park. LAPD officials said protesters had thrown plastic bottles and other projectiles. Protest organizers dispute the account and are demanding an independent investigation.

To help recap and look ahead to what’s next, I’m joined now by organizers of the day’s two largest protests. On the line from Los Angeles, Angelica Salas, she is executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. And from Chicago, we’re joined by Jorge Mujica. He is a former journalist and union organizer. He has worked for La Raza, Univision and Telemundo and has been involved in union organizing in both the U.S. and Mexico.

We’re going to begin in Los Angeles with Angelica Salas. Can you explain what happened? Were you at that night protest when the police opened fire with rubber bullets?

ANGELICA SALAS: Yes, Amy. Good morning. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

ANGELICA SALAS: The first thing that I just want to say is that, first and foremost, over 25,000 people gathered in the evening to demand their rights and to demand legalization, a path to citizenship, and to peacefully assemble to ensure that their families have a better future in this country. And I want to make sure that their efforts are highlighted.

It was unfortunate, and we are indignant at the manner in which the police decided to deal with a group of people who were causing disturbances. These were young anarchists who often join our marches, who in every single march in the past in Los Angeles —- this is the seventh May Day march [inaudible] have been isolated away from the crowd. This time, the police showed in the -—

AMY GOODMAN: Angelica? Well, it looks like we’ve lost Angelica, but we’ll go to Jorge Mujica, and then we’ll get Angelica back, calling from Los Angeles. Jorge Mujica, can you describe what happened in Chicago?

JORGE MUJICA: Yes, Amy, good morning. What happened in Chicago is that we were able somehow to have only one demonstration, every organization united in a single front. And we put up in the streets 150,000, according to the police department. We obviously believe that it was a lot larger than that, maybe a quarter million people. We didn’t have any incidents. I think what happened in Los Angeles is pretty bad. We didn’t have it here.

And we sent a strong message to Congress. You know, the problem is still here. They didn’t solve it last year. They are not solving it this year. And every year that passes, there’s going to be another half a million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for in Chicago?

JORGE MUJICA: In Chicago, particularly, we were calling for an end of deportations and raids. One week ago, the FBI, in combination with Immigration Enforcement, sent over 60 federal agents to a shopping mall at 2:00 p.m., when mothers had just picked up their kids from school and they were doing their shopping. And these federal agents were carrying machine guns and M-16s, and they were looking for what is supposed to be a ring of fake ID dealers, you know, sellers of false IDs. Nevertheless, they handcuffed over 100 people. They made them sit on the floor. But they detained 160 people for a couple hours, and then they just let them go, because they knew exactly what they were looking for. They didn’t need to arrest anybody else or detain anybody else.

And this outraged the community, you know. We see this as inconceivable. We are pretty sure that they wouldn’t do it in a Marshall Fields. And so, why do they think they can do it in a Latino neighborhood in the heart of the Mexican community here in Chicago? So, people went out yesterday in numbers to protest this kind of practices.

AMY GOODMAN: Angelica Salas rejoins us from Los Angeles, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights there. In the protest that the police opened fire with rubber bullets on last night, where exactly were you, Angelica, and who were the people that were affected?

ANGELICA SALAS: Yes, I was actually the main MC of the event, and I started seeing the police rush into the park, and we voluntarily — we started seeing people running. We voluntarily cut our program at 6:30. We had our permit that would go until 9:00. We cut it. We made sure that people — we told people to start leaving the park slowly, not to run, with their children.

I stayed towards the end, and what I saw was, instead of isolating a problem group, they pushed them into the crowd. They started shooting rubber bullets into a crowd of just innocent people. I was caught in the middle of all of this, as we were trying to send people out, had to cover a mother with some children. So I am just indignant. I am outraged at the manner in which the police dealt with a family event. We have had millions and millions of people in the streets of Los Angeles. We have worked daily with the police, and for them to actually engage in this kind of action is ludicrous. And I just want to once more say, the majority of the people that were there were assembled in peace, and they were demanding their rights. They were demanding an opportunity for legalization. And to have our police act in this manner is completely outrageous.

And we are — right away, we called a press conference to let our community know that this was not going to be tolerated by the organizers. Immediately we talked to the chief. He was actually there after the event. We talked to him, and we conveyed our just dismay and outrage by what they had done to a group of very innocent people. There were several members of the media who were actually hurt, who were hospitalized, especially, I think, our friends from Telemundo. And overall, I think that it’s just a reaction of a force that is not necessary, when the majority of the people who were marching were — are — first of all, all the organizers are cooperating with you, all the marchers are marching in peace and have done so in the past.

But what we also want to just tell the entire of Los Angeles community and this country, this is not going to derail us from our mission to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to ensure that immigrant families are together, to ensure that we have no more deaths at the border. This is not going to derail us. We’re going to continue fighting, and we’re going to make sure that at home in Los Angeles the police actually treat people as human beings and that they help us in trying to protect and create a public safety environment versus doing what they did last night.

AMY GOODMAN: Angelica, what has the mayor of Los Angeles Villaraigosa said, a longtime labor and immigrant right activist before he was mayor?

ANGELICA SALAS: We right away contacted. He was in El Salvador. We were able to connect with him, as well. Right away, he has agreed to investigate what has occurred. We made sure that he, too, knew of — members of the media who have been following him in this journey towards Central America and Latin America — and Mexico — were with him and directly told him what had happened to their crew. So they’re in the process of investigating this issue. But again, we’re going to be focusing on what the police have done, but we will not be derailed from our pursuit of more humane laws and for the rights of immigrants in this country. That’s why we were all marching out there. That’s why we were marching in peace.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going go to break, and we’ll come back, as we talk about the mass rallies across the United States on May Day for immigrant rights. Angelica Salas, executive director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, Jorge Mujica in Chicago. We’ll be joined by two students, one from Los Angeles and one from Detroit. There was also a clash with police in Detroit, and we’ll find out more in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Over the past month U.S. authorities have arrested and detained at least 750 immigrants in raids across the country, the sweeps part of a program dubbed Operation Return to Sender run by the federal agency ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, used to be known as INS. We recently interviewed longtime labor journalist David Bacon. He described two of the recent immigration raids in particular.

DAVID BACON: … supposedly Operation Return to Sender. So ICE has the names of a few people on warrants, so they’ll go — for instance, in Richmond, California, they went out to a school and stationed themselves in front of the school, supposedly looking for these people, and just stopped everybody coming in and out, asked people for their documents, but only, of course, people who looked Latino. And in this case, they were stopping women who had just dropped their children off. So, obviously, they were going to separate these families, if they picked up any of the people who were involved.

Or there was just another immigration raid in Chicago, where they went to a parking lot in a kind of a mall in the Latino community in Chicago, and they just sort of closed off the parking lot, people carrying, you know, assault rifles. They looked like soldiers. And they, again, had the names of supposedly four people that they were looking for. How they expected to find them in a shopping mall in a parking lot, I have no idea. But what they really did was they went and asked everybody for their immigration papers and began just sort of pulling people in, shoving them into vans.

AMY GOODMAN: Jorge Mujica, was that one of the reasons why people turned out yesterday?

JORGE MUJICA: That’s correct. I think that this military-like operation, it was totally unjustified. It didn’t have — it doesn’t have to take place, you know, in any city, any town. Whenever you see a seven-foot-tall person carrying an M-16 and ordering you to kneel down on the floor, handcuffing people — we were later on told that the attorney general of the United States in Illinois gave the order to detain every Mexican male between 14 and 40 years old. That’s not a — you know, a search-and-look operation. That’s an intimidation operation.

And people reacted immediately, not only yesterday, but also the same day. The same time of this raid, hundreds of people gathered outside the shopping mall and started protesting and yelling and screaming against the federal agents that were there.

AMY GOODMAN: Students once again played a key role in the May Day protests. In Los Angeles, city officials reported around 600 students walked out of class to join the march for immigrant rights. Meanwhile, in Detroit dozens of students were arrested for taking part in a walkout that also protested the planned closure of dozens of schools.

Joining me on the line are two student organizers. Issamar Comacho is a junior at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles. And joining me from Detroit is Jevon Cochran, a junior at Lewis Cass Technical High School in Detroit, an organizer with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights, & Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, known as BAMN.

Jevon, talk about what happened in Detroit yesterday.

JEVON COCHRAN: Well, yesterday in Detroit there were student walkouts from several schools against the school closings. You know, students also walked out against the ban on affirmative action, against like the restrictive dress codes in DPS that students get suspended over every day, and also in support of and in solidarity with the movement for immigrant rights.

And, you know, at the schools — at one of the schools, Northern High School, you know, students marched down to the schools who had walked out from several high schools, and we were having like a really peaceful protest. You know, Northern High School in Detroit is one of the schools that’s slated to close, and once we got there, you know, the students really wanted — the students that had walked out from the other schools wanted the Northern students to come out and, you know, fight to keep their school open, to keep — you know, because if Northern stays open, that’s just — you know, Northern is the key school that we need to keep open, a fight for the rest of the schools in Detroit. And the students went there, and they started chanting, you know, “Keep Northern open! Walk out now!” It was a really peaceful protest.

But what happened was the security guards and the administration at the school basically just terrorized the students and told them that they were powerless and that they couldn’t fight to keep their school open, that they couldn’t fight for their city. They blocked all the doors, and they tried to chain the students in, and they called the cops. And, you know, the cops like started just attacking the students, the students who had come from the other schools, like Cass, the high school that I go to. And there were — like, we were just standing around, peacefully protesting, you know, trying to support the Northern students. And, you know, cops, just out of nowhere, totally unprovoked, started macing like elementary and middle school students. They grabbed one of the students who had led like walkouts at Northern High School almost two weeks ago, and they like beat him. They beat him. They maced him. They slammed him onto a police car. They arrested him. They arrested students from Osborn High School, which is a high school that over 200 students walked out from yesterday. They grabbed him by his hair. And it was just, you know, several incidents happening, you know, like this yesterday, where the police just attacked students and tried to terrorize the students who were fighting for their right to a decent education in our city.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Issamar Comacho in Los Angeles, Roosevelt High School. Where did you march yesterday and why?

ISSAMAR COMACHO: Well, yesterday we marched from my school, Roosevelt High School, from Boyle Heights through East L.A., and also Hollenbeck High School was with us. And schools from all over L.A. walked out, from Huntington Park High School, from — and Bravo High School and Wilson and other schools, Manuel Arts, walked out. And we marched from down through East L.A. to the march in downtown L.A. to join them and to tell everybody in this nation that we are not accepting second-class treatment any longer.

We are not going to accept the INS going into our cities and terrorizing the people who live with us, the people who are in our schools, our friends, our families. We are not accepting it any longer. It’s over. And we are going to keep building this movement until our demands are met. And we will fight. We’re fighting to win. The students will keep organizing, and we’ll be the leadership of this new movement to make — to stop the raids and to make California and every other state in this nation a sanctuary state, a state where the mayors and the governor will not work with the Immigration services to terrorize our communities. And the students walked out and marched, and we led, you know, the march to fight. And we are leading this movement to fight for immigrant rights and to fight to make the lives of every person in this nation really better.

AMY GOODMAN: Issamar Comacho, your response to Mayor Villaraigosa saying the students should not be walking out, that your parents came to this country to make your lives better, and education is part of that?

ISSAMAR COMACHO: Well, my response is that — and the response of many other students is that Villaraigosa, he walked out from his school. He states that he says he fought for his rights and the rights of, you know, his community. And now he’s telling us, the students, that we cannot fight for our rights to make our lives better, to stop discrimination and not accept the mistreatment that we face every day. That is just hypocritical, and we are not going to accept that kind of statement. We are going to keep fighting until we win, and we will fight until we win.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Angelica Salas to ask if you feel that there is a difference in Washington with the Democrats in power?

ANGELICA SALAS: Well, I think that we were expecting that they were going to come out of the gate, they were going to propose legislation that was going to bring a solution to so many families. And, unfortunately, they’re just moving very slow and putting forth proposals that are very compromised in moving forward, where our expectations and our call on May Day are for, you know, a mobilization across the country for immigrant rights is , one, stop these raids, stop the deportation of these families, of innocent people. And they can move on this. They can actually engage our administration. We’re also telling the administration that enough is enough and that their crazy, ludicrous proposals that they’re putting forward are not acceptable.

We’re hopeful that the demands of our — of immigrants, of our people, are going to be heard by the elected officials and that they are going to move quickly on humane, comprehensive immigration reform. And I want to highlight “humane.” This is not about creating a Bracero program. This is not about creating guestworkers. This is about giving people opportunities to live in this country legally, with an opportunity for citizenship, so they have full rights in this country, so that we reduce the backlogs, and to ensure that families are together.

Right now, a lot of what is at the table is dismantling the family-based visa program that we’ve had in this country for decades that have allowed so many families to be together, and certainly continuing on this path of what we consider a Bracero program, a program that keeps visas in control of employers and never gives workers rights. So that’s not what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for full rights.

So we ask the Democrats to have more courage, to stand up for what is right. They have — right now, at this moment, I wanted to say that probably Representative Luis Gutierrez has stood firmly with us. Yet we need them to stand — we need more of them to stand with us, to have more courage against the administration, and we also believe that it takes two parties to move this forward. We don’t want to be talking about this in the 2008 elections. We want them to take action now. Families need relief now. Families need to be together now. And so, they need to take their responsibilities to millions of people in this country really seriously. And we’re saying this is a fix, this is a change, not just for immigrants, but for everybody who cares about peace and justice and who cares about the unity of families, who cares about a better tomorrow for America.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us, Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, Jorge Mujica in Chicago. I also want to thank the two students, Jevon Cochran, joining us from Detroit, a junior at Lewis Cass Technical High School, and as well, Issamar Comacho, junior at Roosevelt High School in L.A.

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Police Fire Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas into Peaceful L.A. Immigration March

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