DC Immigrants March
Revolution #040, March 26, 2006, posted at revcom.us
On March 7, 30,000 to 40,000 Latino immigrants streamed out of subway trains and dozens and dozens of buses from every corner of Washington, DC, and the surrounding area. Groups from workplaces came in uniform. Day laborers, hotel workers, construction workers, church congregations, high school and college students, and families from Maryland and Virginia were there. They filled the huge area in front of the Capitol Building to demand that the draconian anti-immigration bill HR4437 be struck down. The turnout exceeded organizers’ expectations by at least 10,000 people. News of the turnout undoubtedly contributed to the unprecedented outpouring of up to half a million people in Chicago a few days later.
This rally gave expression to a deep and broad stream of discontent and growing desire to resist that is bursting out into the open in immigrant communities. People want answers— Are immigrants doomed to be forever hounded and exploited or is something far different possible? A group of workers held a large hand-lettered banner: “Why are you attacking the workers who do the work others do not want to do?” One man said, “We are like the Jews in Nazi Germany, or the Black slaves. The government wants us to be slaves with no rights. To do the work that nobody wants to do for pennies and then kick us in the butt and deport us when it’s convenient for them.” Another man commented on the connection between immigration and the imperialist domination of their home countries: “Our countries are exploited by huge millionaire corporations. In El Salvador the government says this is progress, but they are fomenting poverty because poverty is the motor of the huge economies. The money that could feed the poor is being sucked up by the foreign companies. That’s why the poorest people must come here. And here it’s the same, the rich could do nothing without the labor of the poor people.” There was a fervent searching for answers and a tremendous openness to revolutionary solutions and a communist movement. Hundreds of bundles of Revolution went out and dozens and dozens of DVD samplers were bought, often by groups.
At a press conference before the march, religious leaders and social service professionals held up handcuffed wrists in protest of the provision in the bill that would expand the definition of criminal “alien smuggling” to include anybody who helps “illegals.” A few days before the march, church leaders from Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and Evangelical denominations issued a joint statement against HR4437. At the march a Catholic priest spoke from the stage: “The evangelical, protestant and catholic churches will not close the doors on undocumented persons or any human being. If helping is to be an act of disobedience, then we will disobey the laws even though we might have to go to prison.” “ Las iglesias evangelicas, protestantes y catolicas no cerraremos las puertas a ningun indocumentado ni a ningun ser humano. Si ayudar es un acto de desobediencia, entonces desobedeceremos las leyes aunque tengamos que ir a la carcel.” Standing on the stage with him were 40 elementary school children dressed in t-shirts that said “We are not criminals.” These children would be designated as criminals for attending school if HR4437 was to pass.
Some speeches from the stage called for support for the Kennedy-McCain bill as a better alternative because it includes a path to (possible) legalization down the road for those who qualify and pay thousands of dollars in fines. The Kennedy bill sees keeping the hope of legalization and family reunification as necessary to maintain social peace among the strategically necessary immigrant workforce. Together with this, it would implement the same high-tech repression at the border.
Thousands among the crowd knew firsthand what “border security” really means. A small farmer ruined by the dollarization of the economy of El Salvador spoke of being the only survivor of a group who crossed through the desert to enter the US, after a month-long trek through Mexico from Central America. Another person spoke: “No matter what walls or troops they put on the border, the hungry people will keep coming. We don’t want solutions that leave out all those who will come next year.”
Against the intensifying anti-immigrant backdrop nationally which seeks to whip up irrational fear and xenophobia, the authorities are now trying to paint construction workers, maids, and farmhands as terrorists and dangerous criminal gangs. Here in the DC area there is an increasingly anti-immigrant atmosphere. These immigrants came out in the face of and against all of this. As one man from Mexico said, “They want to force us deeper into the shadows but we’ve come out into the sun.”
In Virginia, police are already acting as immigration agents—holding traffic violators for deportation. In Manassas, VA, about 35 miles south of DC, in a move that would have made Hitler proud, and demonstrating the real meaning of “family values,” immigrant homeowners and renters have been threatened with eviction or even arrest for living with large families in their own homes. In December, the Manassas City Council redefined the definition of “family” in order to issue a housing ordinance that said only immediate family can live in a home—not cousins, uncles, aunts or others. This ordinance has emboldened those who feel threatened at immigrant families living in their formerly white enclaves and provided legal ways to harass, evict or even arrest immigrants for the crime of living in the area they work. Even Latinos who owned their own homes were threatened with this law by housing inspectors and police. And while people forced this outrageous law to be overturned, the city still distributes pamphlets to instruct homeowners how to identify “illegal conglomerations of persons” and operates a hotline to housing inspectors so that anonymous tipsters can report any immigrants suspected of gathering with their extended families. The Spanish version of the pamphlet instructed Latino residents to keep the lights on outside their houses at night so that police could identify any suspicious activity like Uncle Juan slipping in the back door. Recently the police were sent to arrest a Chinese family after just such an anonymous tip reported just such a “conglomeration of persons,” AKA, a large immigrant family living in a house.
Northern VA has also seen the most recent foray of the “Civil Defense Patrols of the Minutemen,” the infamous KKK-like anti-immigrant stormtroopers who have been so highly praised for their valor and patriotism in defending the borders by Congress members and governors of both political parties. The Minutemen's activities on the border with Mexico have been portrayed as a “clamor from the grassroots” to justify militarizing the border. Now they are operating in cities and towns far from the border, stalking and photographing day laborers and those who would hire them, attempting to force immigrants more into the shadows.
Northern Virginia's population has traditionally had large numbers of white, affluent, retired and active military families, government workers, and Pentagon and CIA employees. In Herndon, VA the Minutemen were met with protest when they began photographing and harassing Latino day laborers who gathered at a 7-11. But they have continued to expand their operations. Montgomery County, Maryland, which has a large immigrant population and has traditionally provided a lot of social services to immigrants, and where cities such as Takoma Park have passed ordinances protecting immigrants, has seen the Minutemen begin photographing and stalking the day laborers at hiring halls run by CASA Maryland, an immigrant rights organization that operates several such halls and involves the immigrant community in fighting for basic rights and expansion of services. When CASA Maryland righteously called for immigrants and their supporters to photograph Minutemen photographing workers and to protest at places where Minutemen live to let their neighbors and coworkers know about their fascist activities, the Minutemen went squealing to the police and their high-placed backers in the government. They demanded investigations into CASA Maryland’s use of taxpayer funds and actually accused the executive director of the organization of “thuggish behavior” and endangering their children!!! As one of the day laborers stated at the march: “The Minutemen are not just backed by the government, they are doing what the government wants them to do.”
The town of Gaithersburg, Maryland, voted and allocated funds to create a workers' hiring hall for some day laborers who had gathered for years in the parking lot of a local church. The Minutemen began “patrolling” the site. Their activity has helped to mobilize and strengthen a reactionary pole of patriotic racists among the townspeople into a "backlash" which might have remained inactive otherwise. The workers' center is now in danger of being canceled by the city.
In Riverdale, Maryland, very near to Bladensburg where the “DC-2,” Joe Veale and AT were beaten and pepper-sprayed while passing out Bush Step Down flyers to high school students, the day laborers who gather at a 7-11 speak of police who constantly watch them, grab them up by their clothes, beat them, and confiscate their IDs. One worker said: “A veces tenemos temor de qué nos pueda pasar algo mañana, nos han rociado con gas pimineta, nos mueven del parqueo…suben los carros a la banqueta para corrernos.” In the face of this, the workers held a press conference to publically denounce the police abuse and formed a committee to work for a hiring hall.
In this climate of escalating attacks and intimidation, this outpouring of resistance from tens of thousands of proletarians from the bottom of society in this city and hundreds of thousands nationally, is a inspiration and great challenge. What could be clearly seen on here on March 7, and even more powerfully in Chicago on March 10, is the potential to shape a kind of polarization and future that is far, far different from the one the sponsors of HR4437 want.