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Happy May Day!

2009-05-01

May 1st is historically known as Worker’s Day.  According to Wiki, during the Cold War, May 1st was seen as co-opted by the “Commies” and thus we in the US, started celebrating Labor Day in September.  May Day has been transformed into a day celebrating the acheivements of the labor movement and, more recently, of fighting for immigrant rights in this country.

The past year has been quite educational for me about immigrant rights in the US.  I grew up in a bubble.  I was an immigrant and my parents were immigrants, so the “immigrant” experience must be like mine, right?  Not so much.  Not everyone is able to enter this country in high demand, with education, part of a “model minority” (whatever that means!), or at a time when immigrants were not seen as plane-wielding terrorists.

But are all of these immigrants, even the illegal ones, terrorists?  WaPo says no:

… the hidden human cost of increasingly strict policies in the post-Sept. 11 United States and a lack of preparation for the impact of those policies. The detainees have less access to lawyers than convicted murderers in maximum-security prisons and some have fewer comforts than al-Qaeda terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But they are not terrorists. Most are working-class men and women or indigent laborers who made mistakes that seem to pose no threat to national security: a Salvadoran who bought drugs in his 20th year of poverty in Los Angeles; a U.S. legal U.S. resident from Mexico who took $50 for driving two undocumented day laborers into a border city. Or they are waiting for political asylum from danger in their own countries: a Somali without a valid visa trying to prove she would be killed had she remained in her village; a journalist who fled Congo out of fear for his life, worked as a limousine driver and fathered six American children, but never was able to get the asylum he sought.

Since late last year, I have been supporting work after ICE raided a company, arresting two dozen Indian workers in a city in the mid-west.  This particular group of workers had survived human trafficking.  They were charged by federal prosecutors, detained in a federal facility, and released on a huge bail, all because the DOJ has not yet granted them what the laws of this country say they have a right to have–the ability to legally stay and work in this country until their traffickers are prosecuted.

After being a firsthand witness to this mental and physical agony on these individuals and their families, and the toll it takes on advocates and allies, seeing the map below blew my mind.  Each incident represents dozens to hundreds of FAMILIES, not just people.  Entire communities that are affected– some locally, and some thousands of miles away. 

iceraidscentrolegal

Raids, detention, and forcible deportation for residents, while corrupt owners and businesses are allowed to continue with “business as usual.”  This is happening from one coast (i.e. homes raided in California) to the other (i.e. ICE agents posed as employers offering jobs to workers in Connecticut).  According to the 2006 ICE Fiscal Report, agents made an average of 279 administrative and 55 criminal arrests per day (from here).

All this to say, would anyone be interested in finding a local event to support immigrant and worker rights?  Christine Neumann-Ortiz takes the words right out of my mouth (much more eloquently) in this Huffington Post article:

So why am I marching on May 1st? Because I am the daughter of immigrants; because working to survive is not a crime; because children are being incarcerated; because people are dying on our borders; because children are being forcibly put up for adoption while their parents are in detention; because I believe in the American people who have challenged unjust laws throughout our history; and because I believe that together we will make a difference.

To that, I add– I am marching because I AM an immigrant, because I believe that social justice is integrated into my religious beliefs, for the hundreds of workers I have met this past year who have changed my life, and for the thousands of workers who have suffered or been exploited whom I have benefitted from in some way.

Are you in New York City?  Try heading to Union Square at noon or Federal Plaza at 5:30.  In Westchester?  There’s a march in Ossining at 6:30.  In Long Island?  Hempstead at 11 am.  Find more at this site— there are things happening all over the country and even internationally.  Personally, I wish I could be in New Orleans today, participating in the march and second line, but maybe I’ll make it to the Plaza, or at least to Ossining.  See you there!

¡Sí se puede!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. rosamma permalink
    2009-05-02 9:06 PM

    Workers decry “wage theft” in protest at City Hall
    by Gwen Filosa, The Times-Picayune
    Friday May 01, 2009, 2:36 PM

    Helped by the Hot 8 Brass Band, about 50 people marched through downtown New Orleans this afternoon to protest the treatment of Latino workers in a post-Katrina city teeming with construction projects.

    “Respecto y Dignidad,” (Respect and Dignity) one man’s sign read as the group gathered at the steps of City Hall, chanting in English and in Spanish demands that city leaders investigate their allegations of companies flush with recovery contracts failing to pay day laborers and construction workers.

    The protest was organized by the Congress of Day Laborers and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, and started at Louis Armstrong Park and headed toward City Hall. Along the way, the men and women stopped at the U.S. Department of Labor office, only to be greeted by a federal agent, said Saket Soni, director of the workers’ center.

    The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent called up to labor officials warning them that “this was obviously a protest against ICE and he wanted to make sure it didn’t get violent,” Soni said.

    An attorney for the workers’ center remained at the federal office to talk with officials about the greeting, Soni said.

    Workers in New Orleans have been “robbed of thousands of dollars” in three cases, the protest organizers said.

    “I am a father who because of wage theft can’t provide for my sick daughter,” said Mario Mendoza.

    On April 15, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice filed three complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor, naming contractors and subcontractors they accused of hiring workers for manual jobs and then shorting their pay.

    The projects named in the complaints are: Savoy Apartments, formerly the Desire public housing development in the 9th Ward; the Walnut Square Apartments Project; and Oak Villa Apartments. All but the Oak Villa project have received state and federal money to build affordable housing as the city recovers from the 2005 hurricane season.

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