For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Contact: El Comité and the May 1st Action Coalition,
Reflections on the 10 year Anniversary of the 2006 Mega-Marches for Immigrant Rights.
Community members continue the struggle amidst rampant discrimination and xenophobia.
SEATTLE – Sunday marked the 10 Year Anniversary of the April 10, 2006 National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights March. The march was one of two major marches to take place in the Spring of 2006 (the other taking place on May 1st 2006) and was a critical event in recent history. Both events were the largest mass demonstrations to take place in Seattle since the WTO Demonstrations of 1999 and the Anti-Iraq War March of 2003. The marches were part of a larger coordinated effort in which cities nationwide took to the streets to protest against the draconian, H.R. 4437 legislation (passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in December of 2005).
The legislation, also known as the Sensenbrenner Bill and named for its sponsor, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), would have: 1) made it a felony to assist undocumented immigrants, 2) sought the building of 700 miles of militarized border fence, 3) fined undocumented immigrants thousands of dollars during deportation procedures, and 4) forced local and state police to act as de facto Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) auxiliary agents. In essence, besides the alarming encroachment into local law enforcement agencies, the bill would have instantly criminalized schools, teachers, clergy, churches, social service workers and agencies, as well as family members of undocumented immigrants, simply for the act of providing basic humanitarian aid (e.g., food, clothing, shelter). The xenophobic fervor was especially acute, considering that residing in the country without valid documentation is a civil matter, not a criminal offense. The bill passed through congress with a Republican majority, sprinkled with a few votes from members of the Democratic Party. Rep Rick Larsen (D-Washington), was one of the Democrats to have the dubious distinction of voting for the bill.
The urgency felt by many immigrants and their families in wake of H.R. 4437 led to some of the largest mobilizations in U.S. history. Locally, the response to the passing of the Sensenbrenner Bill led to a wave of protests and demonstrations that set a new precedent for Washington State’s Latina/o population. Youth in high schools, concerned about their parents, led walkouts and demonstrations across the state. University students mobilized on their campuses and passed student government resolutions denouncing the legislation. Community organizers branched out to different entities in the labor, faith, and social justice communities, to march with the goal in mind to stop H.R. 4437 from becoming law. Nationally, the marches, demonstrations, boycotts, and general strike on May 1st 2006, proved decisive in killing H.R. 4437 and its legislative equivalent in the U.S. Senate. Soon after this victory, the movement forked as many community organizations continued fighting legislation at the local level, while several other groups demobilized in anticipation of the 2006 and 2008 elections, and the “possibility” of using the electoral process to attain the movement’s goals.
In the 10 years since the marches, conditions remain variable for many immigrants throughout the country. The electoral process and election of democrats to the House of Representatives, Senate, and White House didn’t deliver on the promise for a just immigration reform. Tragically, as the War in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Economic Depression, and Health Care Reform took top billing in policy, the same regressive, enforcement-first policies enacted by the Bush Administration continued unabated. Institutional neglect and congressional lip service allowed for an estimated 3 million immigrants to be deported. As people waited for congress to move, conservative states enticed by xenophobic wedge issues, tried passing in their own legislation, most notoriously in Arizona with the passing of S.B 1070.
In light of what transpired nationally, in Seattle and the Puget Sound, organizers re-shifted their energies to local campaigns to create a sanctuary city in Seattle, to allow undocumented immigrants to attain a driver’s license to safely operate a vehicle, and to create an ordinance that outlawed wage theft (immigrant day laborers were especially vulnerable). It is through continued support and solidarity, that the immigrant rights movement in Seattle has been able to maintain a steady presence and has continued the fight for social justice.
As we look toward May Day 2016 we reflect upon what we have collectively achieved and what goals we wish to attain. In previous years, we proclaimed “we demand, because we produce.” In rural communities, we are critical to the agricultural economy in this state. In the urban areas, our work in support and service industries are essential behind the scenes. We came out to the streets on May 1st 1999, and continue the tradition yet again this year. As workers, as community members, we invite all our sisters and brothers in labor, faith, and social justice to join us once again this year. May 1st is our holiday in which we celebrate the workers, the members of our communities on the social and economic margins that struggle every day for a more dignified existence. On this day we join as workers from all segments of life, all corners of the earth, and stand in solidarity and embrace each other. In the words of many activists circa 2006, “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!”