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3/7 washington DC: Immigrants' Rights Rally
Released 11 March 2006  By DC Imdymedia Center

3/7 washington DC: Immigrants' Rights Rally
March 7, 2006
DC Imdymedia Center

Thousands of people converged on the Capitol on Tuesday, March 7, to demand that Congress throw out the cruel Sensenbrenner/King bill (H.R. 4437), and adopt a comprehensive, humane, immigration policy. The Sensenbrenner/King bill would make all undocumented immigrants "aggravated felons", would build more jails for immigrants, and would make anyone who "aided" an undocumented immigrant or transported her or him within the U.S. an "alien smuggler". This could include driving someone to the doctor, or driving a coworker home...

Thousands of people converged on the Capitol yesterday to speak out against H.R. 4437 and demand an immigration bill that would create a temporary guest worker program, or, ideally, grant amnesty to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Although it wouldn't grant amnesty, speakers talked about the McCain/Kennedy bill being the best option yet. The McCain/Kennedy bill would allow undocumented immigrants already in the country the chance to come forward and apply for a three-year work visa. At the end of three years, they could reapply. At the end of six years, they would either have to leave, or be in the process of applying for a green card.

H.R. 4437, on the other hand, would create an "underclass" of workers who would be afraid to seek legal, social, or even medical aid for fear of deportation or imprisonment. The provision for new prisons in H.R. 4437 is the most sickening aspect, to me. The fact that people who have never committed a crime, except for working, would be sitting in U.S. prisons, fueling the lucrative prison industry, while their families starved at home, makes me sick. Additionally, social service providers, lawyers, organizers, and medical providers are worried about being criminalized under H.R. 4437 for helping their clients.

The Minutemen and other anti-immigrant groups say that "illegal immigrants" should just "go home". What they don't get, however, is that U.S. trade, military, and economic polices have contributed to making their homes unlivable. Unfortunately, this seems to be a point that no one is making in the immigration debate. Even immigrant rights groups are failing to bring up the fact that NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), passed in 1994, devastated Mexico's agricultural sector and displaced millions of small farmers by flooding the market with cheaper U.S. products. NAFTA also led to more U.S.-owned factories along the border that drew Mexico's poor with the promise of jobs. When they couldn't survive on those conditions and wages, they had no choice but to cross the border.

NAFTA is a failed system that continues to fail. Despite that, Bush twisted the effects of NAFTA in an effort to get CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement) passed! He testified that "CAFTA will actually decrease undocumented immigration by providing job opportunities in Central America". What he fails to mention, however, is that no one can survive on the $5 a day that U.S. companies will be paying their workers. Then there's the fact that many companies in Latin America are participating in union-busting and even assassinations (Coke), or harming workers' health by spraying them with pesticides that were banned years ago in the U.S. (Dole). CAFTA will undoubtedly increase undocumented immigration, as NAFTA did (it quadrupled the year that NAFTA passed). Bush knows this, so you'll notice that his first pledge to "fortify the border" came shortly after CAFTA was passed last August.

What we really need is an economic system that will prevent people from having to leave their countries, homes, and families in the first place. Most undocumented immigrants don't actually want to be here. But they are desperate to support their families, and more fences and laws will not change that. And, as the border is increasingly militarized, they force themselves to wait longer and longer to go back to visit, in fear that they won't be able to return.

I listened to people share their stories of crossing the border the other day. People were comparing scars from the barbed wire fences. Someone talked about how he got injured, and he thought he would be left, but his friends carried him. A woman talked about the terror she felt, since many women are raped by gangs around the border. I am ashamed that this is how my country treats people.

All over the world, the global south is forced to "sneak" into the global north in order to find work. It is unacceptable that our current economic system forces half of the world to work in the low-level jobs of the rich countries. Racism and imperialism underlie this system, and we should be bringing this up during the immigration reform debate. At the very least, if people know why immigrants leave home in the first place, they may feel empathy, instead of anger, towards them.

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