- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

Organizers of immigrant rights demonstrations planned for tomorrow in more than a dozen cities are split on whether the protests should include a boycott of work and school.

“We’re not supporting a boycott. We are not calling for a boycott,” said Gabriel Gonzalez, director of organizing for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which helped coordinate a March 10 rally of about 300,000 in Chicago.

Tomorrow’s “Day Without an Immigrant” demonstrations aim to highlight immigrants’ place in the economy — whether illegal or legal — by having them close their businesses, skip school or work and avoid spending money.

Mr. Gonzalez said a boycott could attract negative news media attention and turn off politicians whom the movement is courting to pass a federal law allowing illegal aliens to become citizens.

“If people want to take off work, if they want to take off school, we’re encouraging them to talk with their employers or their school districts about that,” said Mr. Gonzalez, whose coalition is one of 200 groups calling for demonstrations to support both illegal aliens and legal immigrants.

But protest leaders in Los Angeles, where a massive turnout is expected tomorrow, argue that a boycott is necessary to show strength.

“The pulse of the people is that they are ready to boycott,” said Nativo Lopez, president of the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Political Association. “The many people that marched in March and April did so without the direction or leadership of national advocacy organizations, unions or even the church.”

But activist leaders in the District joined with local Hispanic elected officials last week to discourage participation in the boycott. They are urging immigrants and others to join “community oriented” rallies, centered on registering voters and lobbying lawmakers.

Other groups — not exclusively Hispanic — continue to voice support for the boycott.

“We back the boycott all the way for our part,” said Chito Quijano, coordinator of the newly formed Justice 4 Immigrants Filipino Coalition.

Mr. Quijano, who said his group counts hundreds of members in the Los Angeles area, noted that about a quarter of the estimated 4 million Filipino immigrants in the United States are here illegally. He argued that the economy of the Philippines would crumble were it not for about $60 billion sent to families there by immigrants here.

Some businesses made plans to shut down plants tomorrow, anticipating many of their workers will attend immigration rallies.

The top three beef-producing companies, Tyson Foods, Swift & Co. and Cargill Inc., all said they were closing plants, the Associated Press reported. ConAgra Foods Inc. said it would honor requests for time off if possible, but did not plan any changes in production.

The meat industry relies on immigrant labor, and a Tyson spokesman said that while the anticipated shortage of workers prompted the decision to close some plants, the company is not encouraging employees to participate in the rallies.

The House last year passed an immigration enforcement bill that calls for nearly 700 miles of new fences on the U.S.-Mexico border and requires employers to check Social Security numbers to ensure employees are legal workers.

The Senate is heading in a different direction. Leaders there say they have a general agreement on a broader bill that would create a program for future foreign workers and would legalize many current illegal aliens, offering them a path to citizenship.

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