Chicago Immigrants—A Defiant Show of Strength

Revolution #039, March 19, 2006, posted at

The scene in downtown Chicago on March 10 was remarkable and unprecedented—hundreds of thousands of immigrants marched into the heart of a major U.S. city, stopping all traffic and disrupting business as usual for a whole workday afternoon to demand that their voices be heard. Immigrant protesters left their workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods all over the Chicago region and beyond to converge on the downtown Loop area. And they delivered an unmistakable NO to a draconian new anti-immigrant bill (known as HR4437 or the Sensenbrenner bill) passed by the House of Representatives last December and to other anti-immigrant attacks, like the Minutemen vigilantes who hunt down immigrants at the border.

This historic march sent shockwaves far and wide—throughout this country and worldwide. It is an international call to millions and millions of immigrants everywhere in this globalized world who are dislocated from their homes, kept in the shadows, denied rights, isolated, and superexploited!

The marchers arrived in hundreds of chartered buses and jammed the el trains and the commuter trains from the suburbs. Cars and vans stopped to pick up people on street corners who weren't able to get on the crowded city buses heading toward the march starting point. Aerial news photos showed the streets throughout the Loop packed with protesters. Estimates of the size of the protest reached upwards of 300,000 to half a million. The people who came out were mainly Latino, overwhelmingly Mexican, and there were smaller contingents of Polish, Irish, Asian, and other immigrants. At a time when a reactionary xenophobic frenzy is being whipped up about immigrants "invading our borders" and armed fascists like the Minutemen are being mobilized, the participation of European and Asian immigrants in this march was very important and positive.

In Chicago and surrounding suburbs, many businesses, factories, and schools in Latino and other neighborhoods emptied out. Restaurants posted signs saying they were closed for the march—and calling on others to join. A Mexican market in South Chicago chartered 15 buses, and 300 people came from a grocery store in a western suburb. Two hundred people walked out of sweatshop factories near Elgin, shutting down one of the many small industrial parks in the area that thrive off of low-wage immigrant labor. A welder said that 60% of the 350 workers at his factory came to the demonstration after the plant manager told them they could take off.

One marcher said, "There's a lot of Hispanic people here. Imagine if just for one day all the Hispanic people stopped working—what would happen to the United States?" Oppressed people who are forced to live and work in the shadows emerged into the light of day. And they marched right to the courts at the downtown Federal Plaza where deportation hearings are held, waving banners and signs with statements like "Somos humanos, no animales" (We are human beings, not animals) and "Aquí estamos, no nos vamos" (We're here, and we're not leaving).

One marcher told Revolution: "Bush is acting like Hitler. What was it, 1940s, he killed all those Jews. So he wants to eliminate all the Spanish people in the United States... He's pointing out Mexicans as Jews were pointed out back then, so people started beating up Jews in the street, and that could happen now. Just pointing out people could make other people look at them and forget that they might be human, that they might have families here."

The march was the big front-page news in the Chicago Tribune the next morning—but it was blacked out in the New York Times and other major media. Imagine the kind of major national media coverage that would've happened if as many as half a million anti-abortionists, Promise Keepers, or other such reactionary forces had marched.

Among the speakers at the rally at the start of the march was one of the Anti-Minutemen 5—activists who were arrested at a protest at a Minutemen conference in a Chicago suburb last October and who are now on trial, facing serious jail time. A leaflet from the Anti-Minutemen 5 says: "Right now this country is seeing increasingly vicious attacks on immigrants, justified in the name of the 'War on Terror.' When people step out to oppose these outrages, they must be supported. And when they are attacked, they must be defended... Legal and political precedents are being set that are chillingly similar to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Since 9/11, the administration has built legal precedent for the concept that immigrants—especially Arab and Muslim—are not entitled to due process, and can be held indefinitely in deplorable conditions. Legislators such as Tom Tancredo and Dennis Hastert are calling immigrants a threat to America, defending harsh profiling, and manipulating fear to justify any anti-immigrant measures in the name of the 'war on terror'... In this atmosphere, groups like the Minutemen serve as semi-official shock troops and enforcers. They patrol the border with guns, hunting the human beings they call a threat to the 'fabric of America.'" (The text of the leaflet is available online at Contact the Anti-Minutemen 5 at Also available at audio files of the interview last October with Travis Morales from the RCP-SF Bay Area Branch, on Chicago Radio Univision affiliate, talking about the Minutemen.)

The Sensenbrenner bill passed by the House would make it a felony—instead of a civil violation—to be in this country without legal documents. Millions of people would be classified as "felons," making them subject to immediate detention and deportation and permanently ineligible for legal status in the U.S. The bill would also make it a federal crime to help undocumented immigrants—social workers, doctors and nurses, teachers, priests, and others who help undocumented people could face years in prison. Other provisions would intensify the militarization of the border and the overall repressive apparatus against immigrants.

The Sensenbrenner bill is not yet a law. There are a number of different immigration "reform" proposals in the Congress, and George Bush has been promoting his own ideas for increased manhunts, mass deportations, and concentration camps. But various provisions in the Sensenbrenner bill could become part of an actual law—and in any case the bill gives a picture of the chilling and intolerable future for immigrants, if the war on immigrants is not resisted and stopped.

House Republican Tom Tancredo is pushing for even more extreme anti-immigrant measures, such as the revoking of the long-established principle that every child born in this country, regardless of their parents' status, is a citizen. (This is in effect a call to repeal the 14th Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War to give former slaves citizenship.) Tancredo and others are especially and intensely opposed to proposals for a "temporary worker" program (raised by Bush as well as other Republicans and many Democrats) which would give temporary work permits to undocumented immigrants.

These differences around immigration are part of the divisions within the bourgeoisie over how to best pursue the strategic interests of their class, as they move internationally to extend their global empire and at the same time to enforce a whole new social compact within their "homeland." But even as there is struggle at the top over this question, the government and the power structure overall is moving quickly to step up the war on immigrants.

At the March 10 immigrants march in Chicago, a number of major Chicago and Illinois Democratic Party officials spoke at the downtown rally, including Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Senator Dick Durbin, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and Representative Luis Gutierrez. The march had been organized by a broad range of community and religious organizations, immigrants rights groups, and others and had been publicized in the Latino community by the popular radio DJs and other Spanish-language media. When it was clear that the march was going to be huge, the Democratic politicians stepped in.

Gutierrez is a major force behind the House version of an "immigration reform" bill spearheaded by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Senator John McCain. The McCain-Kennedy bill contains provisions that are clearly different from the Sensenbrenner bill, including a "temporary worker" program similar to what Bush has proposed. But such "temporary worker" programs are intended in part as a way to give the government more ability to identify and track immigrants—and the McCain-Kennedy bill overall calls for more border militarization and tightening up of the government's control over immigrants.

The contending bills in Congress are all bad. There is debate and division in the ruling class now over the question of how to deal with immigrants—who are seen as both an essential source of profit and super-exploitation, and also a potentially destabilizing factor for a system that is subjecting people very broadly to traumatic changes in their lives. The terms of that debate in the halls of power are over how to intensify the exploitation and persecution of immigrants, and how to cohere repressive, reactionary social stability. Forces in the power structure who lent their machinery to this mobilization were working to channel people's anger into the terms of this debate within the ruling class—which again offer nothing good for the people. We cannot accept discrimination or criminalization of any immigrants! No militarization of the border! And no government-promoted vigilante terror by the Minutemen and others!

Undocumented immigrants live every day under the constant threat that they could fall into the clutches of the authorities, labeled as "illegal," and quickly deported—separated from their source of livelihood, their friends, and their families. But these people, with so much to lose, took to the streets in a defiant, militant, and even festive show of strength in their hundreds of thousands. What the world saw on March 6 is a striking contrast to the all-too-common defensiveness in the face of all the reactionary and fascistic moves of the Bush regime and the U.S. rulers as a whole. And people who want to defend the right to abortion, who oppose the U.S. war in Iraq and threats elsewhere, who are outraged at the government's rampant wiretapping operations—everyone should support, be inspired by, and learn from the fearless spirit and righteous daring of those who stepped forward into the streets of Chicago.

"The U.S. imperialists like to pride themselves on how they have used and absorbed millions and millions of immigrants—we have all been told about the ‘great melting pot.’ But in the U.S. today there are millions of immigrants whom the imperialist rulers regard as troublesome and dangerous. These are immigrants from the Third World, particularly those from nations oppressed by U.S. imperialism. They have a lifetime of experience with the raw, brutal reality of Yankee rule, among them is a deep hatred for it and no small amount of experience in fighting against it. Further, there are many things in common between these immigrants and the Black, Mexican-American, Native American, and other oppressed peoples within the borders of what is now the USA. The imperialists see in such immigrants a source of instability and upheaval, a force weakening the internal cohesion of the home base and potentially undermining the power of the U.S. as an international overlord.... The imperialists react by asserting more aggressively the white, European, English-speaking identity of the American Nation.

"For the revolutionary proletariat it is just the opposite. We renounce that nation, we denounce any such identity—we are proletarians, not Americans, and our identity is that of the international proletariat. We insist on the equality of nations, including equality in culture and language. And more, we recognize in such immigrants a source of great strength—a vitally important force for the revolutionary struggle to overthrow U.S. imperialism and to create over its grave a powerful, living expression of proletarian internationalism and a powerful base area for the world proletarian revolution."

From BULLETS…From the Writings, Speeches and Interviews of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, pp. 164-5

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