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Immigration activists plan May Day rallies

May 01, 2009|Teresa Watanabe

Buoyed by perceptions of a bright political climate for immigration reform, thousands of activists plan to rally today in Los Angeles and nationally for migrant and labor rights.

But even as President Obama, a Democratic Congress and many immigrant activists agree on the major outlines of a reform package, some Southern California activists say differences among them have shattered previous unity and resulted in plans to field separate marches.

At least seven marches are scheduled, including four in downtown Los Angeles, as traditional May Day celebrations of workers' rights have expanded to include immigration reform. Downtown march organizers are projecting between 20,000 and 60,000 participants, far fewer than the hundreds of thousands who turned out in 2006 to protest House passage of legislation that would have criminalized actions by illegal immigrants and their supporters.

The marches are still expected to snarl downtown traffic for hours, particularly when they converge near City Hall in the late afternoon. Several streets including 11th, Ord, Grand and Alameda will be closed. City officials are recommending that commuters take public transportation. For more street closure information, go to http://trafficinfo.lacity.org/html/2009.

Most of the groups agree on the same policy measures -- legalize illegal immigrants, stop work-site and residential raids, and end the separation of families through deportations. Sharp disputes over the use of guest worker permits, meanwhile, were recently settled by two leading labor unions.

But Jorge Rodriguez of the March 25 Coalition, which organized the massive marches three years ago, said he failed in repeated attempts to persuade other coalitions to unify into one march. He blamed the failure on the "egos" of others.

"People weren't willing to look at the bigger impact we could have if we all came together," he said. "They couldn't get beyond their own egos."

Hamid Khan of the South Asian Network said real policy differences divided the groups, one reason his organization planned to rally in Artesia this year rather than join the Los Angeles marches. He said he has not garnered much support from other coalitions for his group's concerns, such as how national security and immigration laws have been jointly used to detain and deport immigrants from Pakistan and other South Asian nations.

Nativo Lopez, whose Mexican American Political Assn. is now part of the Southern California Immigration Coalition, said he was unwilling to support measures that other advocates accepted, such as e-verify, an electronic method to confirm employees' work status.

"Why would anyone expect everyone to put our differences aside to artificially demonstrate people are unified when they're not?" he asked.

His coalition is supporting full legalization of all illegal immigrants and urging Obama to use administrative authority to stop the raids, stay deportation orders and end the incarceration of undocumented children, among other things.

In the past, coalitions were also split over whether to call on students to ditch school and employees to boycott work in support of immigrant rights. This year, however, no one is calling for boycotts amid widespread economic hardship.

Despite the differences, immigrant activists expressed optimism that Obama would make good on promises for reform.

"We have definitely raised our hopes this year, knowing President Obama and Congress will do the right thing in passing humane legislation," Rodriguez said.

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teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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