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by Roberto Lovato

The Invisibles Mobilize for Their Rights

(PNS) -- Queens resident Alberto Ledesma and other immigrant marchers literally put their bodies on the line in the tug of immigration war on Tuesday, May 1. "Give him back!" they yelled. "Let him go!"

They yanked the arm of the NYPD officer clutching a fellow marcher named Romano. They leaned and pushed against the officer until they freed their friend from a chokehold. But Ledesma and the other marchers were tackled by a dozen or more officers who proceeded to re-arrest Romano and dragged him into a parking garage on Broadway Street, the site of the massive May Day immigration march in New York.May 1

Within minutes, hundreds of marchers surrounded the police who put up a wall of blue uniforms as they retreated into the parking lot while they awaited reinforcements. Riled by the arrest, Ledesma looked past the baton-wielding wall and yelled to his friend, "Don't say anything! We will get you out!" As police cars drove away with Romano after several tense minutes of a standoff, the hundreds of marchers cheered after him, "You are not alone! You are not alone!"

They then flowed back into one of the many marches in which the central message was as much about defending the 12 million undocumented immigrants from increased raids, arrests and imprisonment as it was about legalizing them.


Thousands of American flags filled the first and second round of immigrant rights marches in Los Angeles on May 1. But at the end of a serene day, which turned out an estimated 25,000 people, the final gathering at L.A.'s MacArthur Park erupted into chaos when police in riot gear moved in unannounced. Ten people were hospitalized, including three members of the media.

"We had just begun the show when they began shooting," said Elisa Ross, producer of Noticiero Telemundo which was broadcasting live just before the police moved in. "We told them, 'We're news, we're going live,' but they didn't care, they just plowed right through us," Ross said. One of the show's cameramen was struck by police and his camera was destroyed, Ross said. "There were kids everywhere...It looked like they were shooting indiscriminately." Much of the violence was caught on tape by several media news crews, including Telemundo's.

Fox 11 aired video of a station camerawoman being struck by a police officer. Telemundo aired video of a cameraman being struck with a baton and then having his camera picked up and thrown to the ground.

"We had a permit to be in MacArthur Park today and they did not give us any order to disperse," said march organizer Simi Gandhi.

The incident that allegedly sparked the collision between police and marchers occurred late in the day, at one far corner of the park when a group of marchers would not move off of the street. According to Police Chief William Bratton, who held a late evening news conference in response to the violence, police were responding to bottle "missiles" being launched at them by a group of marchers outside the park on the street at around 6 p.m. Police issued an "unlawful assembly" order to immediately clear out the park. Hundreds of officers in riot gear pushed crowds out of the park, firing rubber bullets and beating people with batons. People hauled coolers, children, signs and balloons off the premises as police marched through the park, shoving and occasionally beating them.

"I was very concerned about the children," said Adriana Manjares, a Los Angeles schoolteacher who was caught in the eruption. "When we saw the police we started telling families to go," she said. "But by that time they were already shooting."

At the news conference, Bratton said that a "vast, vast majority of the people who were here were behaving appropriately," and promised an investigation.

Media at the late evening news conference were incensed that police had not honored their press credentials. Today, the Radio and Television News Association released a statement calling for "an immediate and complete investigation of the violent treatment of journalists by Los Angeles Police Department personnel at the conclusion of Tuesday's immigration march."

The Police Chief told local KNX radio Wednesday morning that, "There were some scenes there, clearly, based on my years of experience and the years of experience of many of my command staff, did not appear to be (appropriate)."

Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor said in a statement, "We must not forget that those taking part in today's actions were families -- children, parents and elderly. Any one of those could have been severely hurt." She urged Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had departed earlier in the day for El Salvador, to "make institutional changes to the pattern of aggression and violence towards our communities."

Late last night from El Salvador Villaraigosa held a press conference calling the incident a "most unfortunate end to a peaceful day." Police Chief Bratton was scheduled to fly to El Salvador to meet with the mayor but was asked to stay in Los Angeles to oversee the investigation.

-- PNS

One year after the historic marches announced "Today we march, tomorrow we vote!" and only months after a dozen anti-immigrant legislators were removed from Congress in a historic political shift, Tuesday's more somber, but still spirited marches seemed to mark a new strategy. It advocates legalization while more aggressively defending against increased raids and what marchers consider the punitive policy proposals of even the most liberal legislation.

Telemundo reporter Pedro Sevcec and crew run from LA police during live broadcast (Telemundo video capture)

"We are adamantly opposed to the STRIVE Act," said Daniel Vila, member of the May 1 Coalition that organized the New York mobilization. Introduced by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the "Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy (STRIVE) Act," contains most of the enforcement and legalization provisions of last year's McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. It also includes additional "triggers" that will hold up any legalization until Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff certifies that sufficient "border security" measures are in place. The STRIVE Act also includes a "touchback" provision that requires undocumented immigrants to leave the country and re-enter before adjusting their legal status.

Vila was among those who marched against the STRIVE Act, which they see as a more friendly version of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill. That bill, which would have made anyone who aided an illegal immigrant a felon, helped spark last year's massive response.

The STRIVE Act will lead to a Faustian exchange of legalization for increased jailing of and raids on immigrants, they said. "Under the best conditions, we will only get a problematic legalization process and lots of the more repressive parts of (the) Sensenbrenner (bill): biometric identification, building the wall, increased border surveillance and dozens of new ways to turn immigrants into criminals. In the long term, it's not worth it," said Vila, who cited new strategic priorities in response to the spate of immigration raids since last year. Vila added, "We will be asking for legalization; we will be voting; but we will also be showing more resistance. In coming months you will see some of us organizing rapid response groups that will begin to intervene and stop ICE from arresting, terrorizing and deporting immigrants. The community needs to see that immigrants are willing to defend themselves."

In Chicago -- where estimates of the marchers ranged between 150,000 to 500,000 -- mobilization leader Roberto Lopez of the nonprofit Sin Fronteras agreed with Vila's strategic assessment of the mobilizations. "We can't just let them get away with these raids under the cover of darkness," said Lopez, who, unlike Vila, supports the STRIVE Act, while repudiating what he considers its more dangerous enforcement provisions.

Lopez witnessed M-16-wielding "rapid response" ICE agents shut off entrances into and out of a shopping mall in Chicago's Little Village section last week. ICE agents then detained more than 200 people including dozens of young children. That "fired up the community," said Lopez. "We drew some of the leadership for today's march from the hundreds immigrant community members that surrounded the ICE and the mall for over eight hours." Most of those detained in the mall were later released.

Leaders in Milwaukee, where the police estimated more than 80,000 marched, and in Los Angeles, said that the immigration raids inspired, as much as they scared, many into joining the marches. In Los Angeles, dozens from among the tens of thousands who marched were injured when shotgun-wielding police shot them with rubber bullets.

Maria Flores and her three daughters witnessed the commotion of the parking lot arrest of Romano in Manhattan. Asked if she would continue to march despite having just witnessed police dragging the young immigrant into custody, Flores, a Brooklyn resident and undocumented supermarket clerk who had never marched or been politically active before yesterday, said, "I don't want fear to be all my daughters remember. I'm here because I need to show them that they have to keep struggling; that I will fight to be legal so that we don't get separated; that they shouldn't be intimidated by anything."

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Albion Monitor   May 2, 2007   (

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