Thousands nationwide took to the streets on May Day — which is also International Workers’ Day — to demand immigration reform.
May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, marked 127 years of labor uprisings and union activism, and millions across the world gathered to demand better wages, benefits and working conditions.
Some marches were marked by violent clashes with the police, including in Istanbul, Turkey where police fired tear gas on crowds chanting “Long live May Day.” Protesters marched in open defiance of a government ban on traditional celebrations in Taksim Square. Roughly 22,000 police were mobilized in an attempt to stop the protests. Six were wounded in clashes and 10 were arrested.
Across the U.S., May Day was marked by demonstrations calling for comprehensive immigration reform, as the U.S. Senate prepares to debate a bill that could make it easier for some to receive the documentation they need to work legally in the country.
In St. Paul, Minn., roughly 1,200 gathered in unseasonably cold temperatures and called for immigration reform and recognition for low-wage workers. During the demonstration, thousands celebrated the passage of the Dream Act in the state Senate. If ultimately passed in the Minnesota state legislature, the bill will make it easier for undocumented students to afford college. Immigrant rights groups, labor unions and activists converged, urging state and federal governments to extend rights to the 11 million workers currently living in the U.S. without documentation.
Immigrants, the backbone of labor
“Adelante! Adelante, que la lucha es constante,” (Forward, forward, for the fight is constant!) shouted Francisco Segovia, an organizer with La Mesa Latina, an immigrant rights group that helped organize the festive rally, which featured singers, dancers and drummers throughout the march.
Some of the aspirations of those in the immigrant rights movement were realized Wednesday when the state Senate passed a bill that would allow undocumented Minnesotan students to pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid at colleges and universities in the state. The Minnesota Prosperity Act, known as the state’s Dream Act, cleared the Senate in a 41-23 vote.
The bill has yet to be passed in the House, but has the necessary support from Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) should it pass. The governor spoke briefly in an unscheduled appearance during the rally Wednesday in support of the bill.
“The Dream Act just passed the Senate so that is great news. Next we are going for driver’s licenses, then we are going for immigration reform,” Segovia shouted.
Upon hearing the news, the crowd erupted into cheers. The news was announced just minutes before the march to the Capitol.
Segovia, a longtime activist, has worked with immigrant groups around Minnesota who have called ceaselessly for reforms that will help families — especially undocumented youth — live better lives.
“We know we are changing the Minnesota face. La Mesa Latina has three objectives. The first is to pass the Dream Act in order to help immigrant youth have access to higher education. Second is driver’s licenses for all, and third is immigrants reform for the millions of undocumented brothers,” Fabiola Camona, a member of La Mesa Latina, told Mint Press News.
In Minnesota, roughly 95,000 undocumented immigrants could soon see the passage of legislation granting driver’s licenses and access to higher education, touted as major goals for attendees at the rally.
In Washington, passing national reforms has proven to be a much larger challenge.
Last month, a bipartisan group of eight senators, know as the “gang of eight,” introduced an immigration bill that would include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as well as measures to tighten border security, clear backlogs in the legal immigration system, create new guest worker programs and expand visas for highly skilled immigrants.
The “clear path to citizenship” so many immigrants have demanded appears lost in the debate, as senators consider a plan that would include a 13- to 25-year path to citizenship.
The sponsors of the legislation include Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), among others. They acknowledge that these proposals face an uphill battle in the Senate and even more uncertain prospects in the House, where many Republicans are reluctant to offer eventual citizenship to immigrants who broke the law, most committing minor offenses like driving without a license.
“The bill that’s in place right now probably can’t pass the House,” Rubio admitted in an interview Tuesday.
Immigrants in labor movement
Labor union support could provide the needed push to make many of these immigration reforms a reality on a national level. For millions of workers across the U.S., issues of low wages, poor benefits and job discrimination plague citizens and noncitizens alike.
“Immigrants have been the backbone of this country. There were German, there were Irish, there were Polish, there were Italians who fought for workers rights. Now we have a new wave of immigrants: Latinos, Ethiopians, Tibetans … and we are demanding workers’ rights, that is the bottom line,” Uriel Perez Espinosa, a union organizer for Unite Here! Local 17 union, told Mint Press News.
Immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, form the backbone of low-wage labor in the United States. For many union advocates, extending citizenship and legal recognition will help all workers achieve higher wages and benefits through collective bargaining.
“On a national level, I would like to see the broken system be fixed. I would like to see a path to citizenship for all workers, for all immigrant workers … We are here along with all the brothers and sisters from the past building this country,” Perez Espinosa said.
Amnesty and work permits also could generate significant tax revenue for state and local governments, a major selling point for cash-strapped states seeking to boost revenue.
Granting citizenship to the 11 million without documentation after five years, a policy supported by a majority of U.S. citizens, would provide a boost of $1.1 trillion in economic growth, contribute $144 billion more in taxes and add $618 billion to all U.S. incomes, according to a recent ThinkProgress study.