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The State

National Boycott Plans Creating a New Divide

April 29, 2006|Teresa Watanabe, Anna Gorman and Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles restaurant worker Jose Mendez says he will risk his job.

The 45-year-old illegal immigrant plans to skip work and march for immigrant rights on Monday for one reason: He hopes someday to become a legal resident of the United States. After six years here, he wants to visit the family he left behind in Mexico -- without fear of arrest on his way back.

Lupe Moreno, 48, a Santa Ana social worker, American citizen and advocate for immigration control, will not join in the national boycott of work, school and consumer spending. After she finishes work, she said, she will engage in her own form of activism: purchasing a $1,000 big-screen TV to "support the U.S. economy as a proud Latino American."

And Luis Magana, a worker at the Sara Lee Bakery Group factory in Vernon, is still torn about what to do. "We want to show that our work counts. We pay taxes and help the economy," Magana said, referring to himself and his fellow workers. "But we need our jobs too."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Political analyst: An A Section article on April 29 about a national boycott over immigration issues misidentified a political analyst at Garcia Research. His name is Carlos Rajo, not Carlos Rojas.

Across California and the nation, workers and employers, students and teachers, consumers and producers are grappling with what to do on May 1, long celebrated as an international workers day. Calls by immigrants rights groups for marches and boycotts have forced them to weigh the risks of losing jobs, missing school and sacrificing business revenue to demonstrate the clout of immigrants in the struggle for reform.

Among other things, many are urging Congress to pass legislation that would create a path toward legalizing most of the nation's 11.5 million illegal immigrants, increase family visas and expand guest worker programs. The Senate is still debating such issues; the House passed a bill in December with strict enforcement provisions, such as making it felony to be in the United States without a valid visa, that many immigrant advocates consider punitive.

What began as a call for action by a small group of Los Angeles activists three months ago has gained dramatic momentum in recent days -- with the boycott even drawing support from the California Senate. Some now see it as a measure of whether the newly energized immigrant rights movement will crest to new heights, stumble or provoke anger that hurts the cause.

The outcome is difficult to predict.

As of Friday, marches, rallies and other events were scheduled in at least 68 cities across 23 states, with hundreds of thousands expected to turn out in Chicago and 50,000 in Seattle. While turnout in Eastern cities such as Washington was expected to be light, demonstrations are expected in at least 25 California cities.

In Los Angeles, police are preparing for two major marches, estimating the combined turnout at about 500,000. One, sponsored by the March 25 Coalition of mostly Latino grass-roots organizations, is scheduled to begin at noon and move from Olympic Boulevard and Broadway to City Hall.

The other, sponsored by the We Are America coalition of labor, religious and community groups, is set to begin at 4 p.m. in MacArthur Park and proceed along Wilshire Boulevard to La Brea Avenue.

The two events represent somewhat of a split in opinion, with the Olympic march organizers supporting the worker and consumer boycott, and the MacArthur park activists taking a neutral stance. Some behind this march -- including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony -- oppose the boycott as counterproductive.

Locally and nationally, organizers expect to draw more diverse crowds into the streets.

In Chicago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and members of his Rainbow Coalition have pledged to participate. And in Los Angeles, some African American community leaders, Korean American churches and businesses, Filipino workers, South Asian immigrants, Jews and Muslims have all announced their intent to march.

Organizers are urging peaceful rallies, but reports of possible walkouts by students and strikes by truckers and cab drivers, meatpackers and hotel workers, grocers and gardeners have raised concerns of havoc.

"It is going to be devastating to us because we are going to be 30,000 containers behind" if truckers don't show up to transport cargo at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, said Stephanie Williams, senior vice president of the California Trucking Assn.

Some warn that any boycott may backfire.

"My personal view is that I do not think it helps," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would create a guest worker program and provide a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants. "I think it may have a negative impact, but I'm not advising any Latino or Hispanic group what to do."

Spanish-language disc jockey Renan "El Cucuy" Almendarez Coello, who helped mobilize as many as 500,000 protesters in downtown Los Angeles in March, said the boycott goes against what immigrants represent.

"We are hard workers," he said. "We came to the United States to work. We should work Monday. Work dignifies us."

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