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Other ethnic groups to join rallies

Immigrants' advocates set to march in Boston

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post / April 10, 2006
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WASHINGTON -- The recent demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of immigration supporters appeared to have one distinct face: Latino. But members of Asian, African, Haitian, and other ethnic groups say that is an illusion that they will dispel by pouring out in large numbers at rallies planned for today.

Koreans said they will march in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, banging traditional protest drums. Chinese activists said they will parade in Chinatowns in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Haitians said they will be heard in Miami and New York. Africans will be among the tens of thousands expected to gather at the Washington Monument.

Days after a compromise bill to overhaul immigration laws stalled in the Senate, more than 100 demonstrations are planned nationwide today.

What began as disparate efforts to promote giving undocumented immigrants a chance at citizenship has turned into a coordinated movement.

''We don't have a leader like Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, but this is now a national immigrant rights movement," said Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Demonstrations were planned today in cities from Florida to Oregon for what has been called the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice.

In Boston, immigrant rights advocates will march from Boston Common to Copley Plaza at 4 p.m. today, and take part in a three-hour program including music.

Rallies were held yesterday in Alabama, California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. Dallas police estimated that up to 500,000 people marched there.

Despite the collapse of a bipartisan deal on immigration, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee voiced optimism yesterday that senators can pass a bill when they return from vacation.

''I think tempers will cool over a two-week period," said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania. ''And also, there are going to be some expressions by many people very unhappy with the Senate not passing a bill and very unhappy with the House bill" that would make being an undocumented immigrant a felony.

Many groups have prepared for today's demonstrations since December, when the House passed a bill to build more walls along the US-Mexico border; make it a felony to help undocumented immigrants; and make it a felony, not a civil infraction, to be in the country illegally.

But as Latino grass-roots organizations made their case in news conferences and earlier protests, other immigrant groups said they feared being ignored.

Eighty percent of people living in the United States illegally come from Mexico and Latin America. Another 13 percent are from Asia, Africa, and other nations, and 6 percent are from Canada and Europe, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

''All of what is happening around immigration reform in the country is not a Latino-originated movement at all," said Deepa Iyer, executive director of the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, based in Silver Spring, Md. ''There are also Asian and African groups working together. From where I stand, I feel that our community is greatly invested in the issue."

Asian groups have become particularly concerned about immigration as the United States steps up its efforts to deport undocumented Chinese and Korean immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security recently said it is close to an agreement with China over the repatriation of about 39,000 Chinese immigrants.

Korean activists said families have been torn apart when immigrant parents were deported while their American-born children remained in the United States.

In Washington, Chuks D. Eleonu, president of African-PAC, said his African immigrants group contacted the Arlington, Va.-based Ethiopian Community Development Council last week to help distribute fliers in English, Swahili, and French and bring Africans to the Mall.

Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the National Coalition of Haitian Rights, said his group alone will bring about 2,000 Haitians to a rally at New York's Liberty State Park, not including other Caribbean immigrants.

Across California, more than 20 events were planned today, including a ceremony in San Diego dedicated to immigrants who have died trying to cross the border. In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been active in support of undocumented immigrants, planned to lead a candlelight vigil.

In a sign of the difficulties that lie ahead, some key House Republicans said yesterday that they disagreed with Senate provisions that would pave the way for legal status for illegal immigrants.

''Until we begin to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws, I don't think we ought to be talking about a more comprehensive approach," House Majority Leader John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said on ABC's ''This Week."

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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