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Immigration Rallies Sweep the Nation

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May 2006
Immigration Rallies Sweep the Nation

Is this an issue concerning Hispanics only? Where do Asians and other undocumented immigrants fit in?

The sun shone down on cities across the US as tens of thousands of mostly Hispanic immigrants gathered to call for immigration reform on April 10th, 2006. Many carried American flags; some brought children. In all major cities, the numbers were impressive and the crowd was peaceful.

A majority of people living in the United States illegally - 80 percent - come from Mexico and Latin America. Another 13 percent are from Asia, Africa and other nations, and 6 percent are from Canada and Europe, according to a recent study. But as Latino grass-roots organizations made their case in news conferences and organized protests that drew hundreds of thousands, other immigrant groups said they feared being ignored. At a recent D.C. news conference to announce plans for the marches and to show solidarity among immigrant groups, churches, unions and traditional civil rights groups, there were no Asians or West Indians and only one black representative.

"All of what is happening around immigration reform in the country is not a Latino-originated movement at all," said Deepa Iyer, executive director of the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow. "There are also Asian and African groups working together. From where I stand, I feel that our community is greatly invested in the issue." Asian groups have become particularly concerned about immigration as the United States steps up its efforts to deport illegal Chinese and Korean immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security recently said that it is close to an agreement with China over the repatriation of about 39,000 Chinese immigrants. Korean activists said families have been torn apart when immigrant parents were deported while their American-born children remained in the US.

Helen Gym of Asian Americans United in Philadelphia said Latinos are better organized, in large part because of their common language. Communicating with Asian groups is a daunting task. However, recent immigration legislation has caught the attention of Asians who "come to the country and don't want to rock the boat," Gym said. But the arrest of Zhenxing Jiang, a pregnant Chinese immigrant who contended she lost twins while in custody, stirred a hornet's nest among Asians nationwide. "She enabled us to make the message clearer," Gym said. "All you had to say is ‘What happened to Mrs. Jiang?' and people got it."

In Washington, African-PAC helped distribute fliers in English, Swahili and French and bring Africans to rallies. Africans have also used word-of-mouth to connect. "We have been talking to everybody, cabdrivers and at grocery stores," said Ben Mitiku, a leader in the Ethiopian community. "We will turn out."

Nevertheless, it is far from clear what kind of effect these rallies will have. It's impossible to predict how the rallies will be received in part because there is no consensus on what to do about the estimated 12 million people who live and work here illegally, which in turn is reflected in the lack of political consensus. Having come close to compromise, partisan pressures may now push Republicans toward building higher walls, Democrats toward calling for a straightforward "amnesty." As a result, nobody close to the issue in Congress seems certain whether it is possible to save a comprehensive immigration reform bill at all. It is now up to the immigrant communities to stand up and put pressure on Congress to respect the rights of those already contributing to the US.

Visa Preference Numbers for May 2006

FAMILY Pak/Bangladesh India

First 22Apr01 22Apr01

2A 01Mar02 01Mar02

2B 15Jul96 15Jul96

Third 22Jul98 22Jul98

Fourth 01Jan95 01Jun94

EMPLOYMENT

First C 01Jul05

Second C 01Jan03

Third 01May01 01Mar01

Other Workers 01Oct00 01Oct00

Fourth C C

Religious Workers C C

Fifth C C


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