According to the 2000 census, there were 8.4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. For 2005, the PEW Hispanic Center already estimated the figure at approximately 12 million. Of these, it was calculated that 78% were Central and South American, and 56%, Mexican. Hispanics as a whole have since 2000 become the largest minority in the United States and the fastest growing ethnic group in the country. In 2006 they were already 14.4% of the population, and it is estimated that they will be 25% in 2050; in addition to the majority in cities such as: Los Angeles, San Diego, San José and San Francisco, in California; San Antonio, Houston and Dallas in Texas; Chicago, Illinois, and New York City, among others. Undocumented immigrant workers according to the same Hispanic Center, 1at the national level they make up 14% of construction workers; 17% of the staff that works in cleaning; 12% of those who work in restaurants; and 25% of those who work in agriculture.
Proposed Law HR 4437 (Law for Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Control of Undocumented Immigration), approved on December 16, 2005, was the trigger that generated in the Latino community an unprecedented mobilization and a sudden and massive politicization. Politicization shifted from activist groups to discussions in schools, workplaces, and homes. In an immediate reaction to the legislators’ decision, Latino activist, immigrant advocacy and human rights organizations met to plan actions they would confront the anti-immigrant offensive. A few days before the beginning of the year (January 12), leaders of the Latino communities gathered on the west coast to schedule joint activities, while on the east coast aboycott to alcoholic beverages during the month of February, practically as a rehearsal of what would happen on May 1. In Los Angeles, a wide range of pro-immigrant organizations gathered at the historic Placita Olvera to formulate a plan of action, and on February 11 in Riverside, California, the first Mexican / Latino Leadership Summit was held, in where around 500 leaders from all over the United States planned to hold mass marches in California, Nevada, Illinois, Texas, Arizona and New York. From the first march in Los Angeles, the symbolic characteristics that would unite the entire movement began to be outlined: white clothing, American and Mexican flags, and the pacifism of the participants. The following Monday, March 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee presented an alternative proposal to law HR4437, written by legislators Hagel and Martínez, which proposed a way for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship, but the proposal was rejected by the full House. However, these attempts to find alternative ways to Sensenbrenner’s proposal were an indicator of the power of the mobilizations.
Thus, the first phase of the movement unfolded from January 12 – with the first meeting of Latino leaders on May 1 – with the marches in 250 cities and the first national boycott in the history of the United States. A second stage began to be activated no longer in the streets but in neighborhoods, schools, work centers, lobbying spaces of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The spring mobilizations showed Hispanic communities that they have a collective and emerging power. After May 1, immigrant workers will not easily return to the shadows; regardless of what Congress decides. The fight for legalization will be linked to other social problems such as: the right to learn and speak the mother tongue; the fight against the exclusive justice system; to miserable wages and lack of health insurance.
The first major expression of social discontent among Latino immigrants, after the Chicano Movement, – in that case totally spontaneous and without any direction – was participation in the Angelina rebellion in South Central in 1991. In the 1960s and 1970s there were union leaders and such as César Chávez and Bert Corona, in California, Guadalupe Sánchez, in Arizona and Antonio Orendain, in Texas, who organized struggles of undocumented workers. 2
Indeed, during the April rebellion in early 1991 in the neighborhoods of South Central, –an area where both black and Mexican immigrants mixed in similar demographic quotas, and which at the beginning of the 21st century was already almost exclusively Latino–, the The most visible actors in the popular revolt were blacks. However, Latino participation was as large as that of the African American population. For example, of the first 5,438 arrested between April 30 and May 4, 2,022 were black; 568 were white; 84 were classified as “other”; and 2,764 were Latinos. Of the latter, according to the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, “La Migra”, 1,200 were undocumented. Of the first 477 undocumented immigrants arrested, according to estimates by the same immigration police, 362 were Mexicans; 62, Salvadorans; 35, Guatemalans; 14, Hondurans; 2, Jamaicans and the rest, from other countries.3
The way to get involved in the conflict also had different characteristics according to each ethnic group. Latinos, for example, were detained for looting rather than fire or destruction of business premises. In the Courts they argued that their participation was due to years of frustration and discrimination, and not to a response by the judicial verdict against Rodney King; Black man accused of resistance to authority, despite being brutally beaten by Los Angeles police. In other words, in 1991 we already saw undocumented immigrants participate in the protests and social outbursts in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, which became the main mobilization center for the demonstrations during 2006.
The 1991 revolt had criminal overtones and lacked a defined social objective; However, at the same time it showed an enormous load of social discontent both for the native poor layers and for immigrants of Latin American origin. The common argument, supported by numerous social researchers and journalists, that immigrants – and more particularly undocumented immigrants – did not participate in US social organizations and movements was false, and was more so than the 1991 riots, that participation in numerous union, neighborhood, educational and cultural struggles over several decades, but had had a low profile and only local expression. James Petras analyzes this underground incorporation into American society very acutely:
The first wave of immigrants, in the 1980s, as an epilogue to the neoliberal shock and military terror, was looking for work of any kind, in anonymity and even in the worst conditions; many of its components concealed their militant past but did not forget it.As the influx of immigrant workers increased, large numbers of Latin American workers were concentrated in the main cities of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. This led to the creation of a dense network of social, cultural and sports clubs, and informal organizations based on previous family, neighborhood or regional ties. Many small businesses flourished, purchasing power increased, children’s attendance in schools where Latin Americans were already in the majority also increased, and numerous radio stations addressed immigrant workers in their own language. Soon, the feeling of solidarity grew due to the simple strength of the number, the ease of communication, the proximity of other compatriot workers,mass movement of immigrant workers. 4
In the background scenario of the historic mobilizations of March, April and May 2006, decades of silent and patient organization of undocumented workers posed through unions, hometown clubs; Neighborhood, student, religious, artistic, political, business, sports, etc. neighborhood organizations. Pioneer groups such as: the Center for Autonomous Social Action (CASA), the small parties of the American left, remain as pioneers in the organization of undocumented immigrants. ; the agricultural workers unions of Texas, Arizona and Ohio, which were directed – respectively – by Antonio Orendáin, Guadalupe Sánchez and Valdemar Velásquez; the International Union of Sewing Workers, which with Miguel Machuca, Cristina Vázquez and Tony Orea, from the seventies of the 20th century,5
Undocumented workers constituted in a sector with their own particularities within the salaried classes of the United States, specifically characterized and predominant in certain branches of the economy, and in certain regions of the United States geography, in a process that concentrates no more than forty years of In an ascending –although unequal– way, it was building its own experience within the social movements of North American society. The first labor struggles that transcended public opinion, in which undocumented workers were the majority or only sector within a strike movement, were those led by the agricultural unions of Texas and Arizona in 1975 and 1977, respectively. 6In recent years, Latinos and immigrants have been at the forefront of the union movement. Some of the most important labor battles in the past decade – including the Justice for the Janitors campaign (janitors in offices, hospitals, schools, self-service stores, etc.) and the strike by warehouse workers in California – have been led by immigrants. In 2006, thousands of workers mobilized in the Hotel Workers Rising campaign; a fight to earn decent wages and benefits and which is against the dominant mega corporations in the hotel industry.
These struggles, little known and with little national impact, were, however, significant experiences that, together with practically anonymous actions and others only known at the local level, gave rise to the great mobilizations of Mexican and Central American immigrants in 1994 against Proposition 187. 7 raised by Pete Wilson in California. That year the Californian electorate approved a law that severely affected the situation of immigrants, but later Wilson (intellectual author of the law and main promoter of its acceptance) as well as other politicians related to him, suffered electoral defeats where the Hispanic electorate was a central factor.
In this context, the characteristics of the mobilizations of Hispanic immigrants in the United States in the spring of 2006 are these:
The number of participants in the spring 2006 marches, from April 10 to May 1, was 5,058,806 (in a high estimate) and 3,324,256 (in a low estimate), and the approximate number of towns where they demonstrated the immigrants was 250. 8 In turn, the overwhelming majority of Mexican immigrants, in particular, and of Latinos, in general, corresponds to the proportion that they have in the set of immigrants. A study by the California Institute of Public Policy (IPPC) 9specifies that 56% of undocumented immigrants are Mexican; 24%, from other Latin American countries; 10% are Asian; 6%, from Europe and Canada, and 4% from the rest of the countries. This study concludes, based on a state survey by the IPPC – statistics from the census and from the California Department of Finance – that there are 10 million undocumented immigrants in the country; one in 15 Californians does not have documents to legally reside, and one in 25 workers in the country is undocumented.
The cities that set the standard in “convening capacity”, initiative and creativity were Chicago (750 thousand protesters in the high estimate and 400 in the low – in the march of May 1) and Los Angeles (700 thousand protesters in the high estimate and 400 thousand in the low – in the marches of April 10 and May 1), which is not only explained by the number of Latin American immigrants residing there and in the metropolitan areas that surround them, but because These places are home to the largest number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, who account for at least 80% of the undocumented population established in the United States. In the same way, Immigrants from these two Latin American regions explain the immense mobilizations in Dallas (500,000 high estimate and 350 low estimate), New York (300,000 high estimate and 100,000 low), that of Phoenix (250,000 estimate high and 100,000 low) and Washington DC (180,000 both high and low estimates), where Mexican and Central American undocumented immigrants predominate. In other words, the cities with the most numerous demonstrations were those where the largest number of undocumented immigrants lived and where the experience, creativity and penetration of new and old leaders were combine