a march is planned next monday for immigrants rights. the location is not certain yet. they hope 100,000+ people will attend


Marches to keep heat on Congress

Daniel Gonzlez and Yvonne Wingett The Arizona Republic Apr. 3, 2006 12:00 AM

After more than a week of demonstrations, immigrant rights advocates in the Valley and across the country are coordinating a series of public actions next Monday aimed at keeping pressure on Congress to pass humane immigration reform.

The events, which organizers say will include marches, rallies, boycotts, walkouts and work stoppages, could eclipse the recent massive street protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people. But unlike the spontaneous student walkouts and Phoenix's surprisingly large march on March 24, next Monday's marches are well-coordinated, organized and strategic.

The actions, planned in at least 30 cities nationwide, are timed to grab the attention of members of Congress returning to their districts for Easter break. It's unknown whether the Senate will have approved an immigration and border security bill by next Monday, but organizers say they want to keep the pressure on Congress to send President Bush a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to earn legal status. The bill passed by the House in December would turn undocumented immigrants into felons.

In Phoenix, organizers are hoping to draw more than 100,000 people for a march and rally at the state Capitol. That would vastly surpass the 20,000 marchers at the March 24 demonstration, the city's largest.

"Because the first march was so successful, now everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon," said Mercedes Mercado-Ochoa, a spokeswoman for Unidos en Arizona. The coalition of more than 30 Latino and immigrant advocacy organizations, community and civil rights groups, churches and unions is planning next Monday's march.

Wide impact

Religious leaders, meanwhile, will gather at the state Capitol on Tuesday to pray that the state Legislature backs off of proposed legislation that would make life difficult for the estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants in Arizona.

Though peaceful, the March 24 demonstration paralyzed a long stretch of 24th Street and sections of the city's east side for most of the day. It drew a sharp rebuke from Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and complaints from hundreds of business owners and residents.

Hoping to avoid similar problems, and the backlash after the first march, organizers are meeting with city, police and fire officials to work out the logistics of what could be an even larger demonstration.

"Things are fluid right now," Phoenix police Sgt. Andy Hill said, adding that police are preparing for "counterdemonstrations" and disruptions.

But some opponents of illegal immigration plan to stay clear.

"I think a counterprotest would be too confrontational," said Stephanie Harris of Mothers Against Illegal Aliens.

Instead, the group plans a rally today outside the north Phoenix offices of Sen. John McCain on 16th Street in support of greater restrictions on immigration.

She believes next Monday's demonstration will backfire.

"If you are here illegally in this country, you really don't have a right to protest," she said.

Next Monday's march and rally, coupled possibly with student walkouts, work stoppages and boycotts, could affect large segments of the city, as well as schools and businesses if large numbers of students and workers participate.

The service and construction industries could be hurt the most if tens of thousands of workers don't show up, said Farrell Quinlan, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Roofing contractor Michael Lynch estimates that half of his 200 Latino workers will take the day off to march.

"It hurts us for the day, it hurts our customers for the day, and it hurts our employees for a day," said Lynch, of Petersen-Dean Inc.

On the other hand, Lynch said, "there's not a whole lot we can do. We respect them, they're the backbone of the company."

Strategy, coordination

The National Capitol Immigration Coalition in Washington, D.C., has called for a "national day of action" next Monday to promote immigration reform. Similar actions are planned in more than 30 cities, said Germonique Jones, spokeswoman for the Center for Community Change, an immigrant rights organization.

"In pretty much every major city in the country something is happening," she said.

Organizers in Phoenix want to avoid some "mistakes" made during the March 24 demonstration.

Many people were angered by scenes of marchers waving Mexican flags during that protest and the student marches later. This time, organizers are urging marchers to bring only U.S. flags and English-language posters.

"We don't want to turn people off," Mercado-Ochoa said.

Waving Mexican flags, she said, "not only turns off the greater community, it turns off a lot of older generations of Mexican Americans."

She said organizers have dubbed next Monday's event, "Somos America," We are America, to send the message that marchers are also Americans, if not legally, in spirit.

"When we say America, we are being inclusive," she said.

Organizers also hope to avoid the backlash created by high school walkouts last week, when hundreds of Valley students skipped class to participate in other protests.

"We hope that students will organize and come join us after school hours," she said.

Phoenix's plan

Over the weekend, organizers were still finalizing details of next Monday's events. Tentative plans call for the demonstration to begin at Veterans Memorial Coliseum near 17th Avenue and McDowell Road, and head south to the Capitol, at 17th Avenue and Adams Street for a rally to protest the immigration bills in the Legislature and call on Congress to adopt immigration reform favorable to undocumented immigrants.

A second option calls for the demonstration to begin at the Capitol, with marchers heading east on Jefferson Street to Cesar Chavez Plaza and then back to Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza next to the Capitol, for a rally.

Organizers are also calling on supporters to not spend any money next Monday to call attention to the economic contributions of immigrants.

The coalition has been working feverishly to plan logistics, appointing dozens of volunteers to committees to work out details concerning public safety, security and water and first aid stations.

Again organizers are turning to Spanish-language radio to spread the word. Over the next week, several radio stations will promote the event.

For example, Radio Campesina, KNAI-FM (88.3), will run 30-second public service announcements 10 times a day, said Maria Barquin, program director and a march organizer.

Phoenix, meanwhile, has recorded public service announcements urging people to "keep their cool" while debating the emotionally charged issue of immigration. The city hopes local English- and Spanish-language Valley radio stations will air the spots.

Reach the reporter at daniel .gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8312.

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