May 1 immigrant boycott aims to 'close' cities

Pro-immigration activists say a national boycott and marches planned for May 1 will flood U.S. streets with millions of Latinos to demand amnesty for illegal immigrants and shake the ground under Congress as it debates reform.

Such a massive turnout could make for the largest protests since the civil rights era of the 1960s, though not all Latinos -- nor their leaders -- were comfortable with such militancy, fearing a backlash in Middle America.

"There will be 2 to 3 million people hitting the streets in Los Angeles alone. We're going to close down Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Tucson, Phoenix, Fresno," said Jorge Rodriguez, a union official who helped organize earlier rallies credited with rattling Congress as it debates the issue.


Immigration has split Congress, the Republican Party and public opinion. Conservatives want the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants classified as felons and a fence built along the Mexican border.

Others, including President George W. Bush, want a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship. Most agree some reform is needed to stem the flow of poor to the world's biggest economy.

"We want full amnesty, full legalization for anybody who is here (illegally)," Rodriguez said. "That is the message that is going to be played out across the country on May 1."


Organizers have timed the action for May Day, a date when workers around the world traditionally have marched for improved conditions, and have strong support from big labor and the Roman Catholic church.

They vow that America's major cities will grind to a halt and its economy will stagger as Latinos walk off their jobs and skip school.

Teachers' unions in major cities have said children should not be punished for walking out of class. Los Angeles school officials said principals had been told that they should allow students to leave but walk with them to help keep order.


Critics accuse pro-immigrant leaders of bullying Congress and stirring up uninformed young Latinos by telling them that their parents were in imminent danger of being deported.

"It's intimidation when a million people march down main streets in our major cities under the Mexican flag," said Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman volunteer border patrol group. "This will backfire," he said.

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