May Day in Georgia: "We are going to fight to the end!"
ATLANTA-Some 2,000-3,000 people rallied in front of the state capitol here to celebrate May Day and denounce HB 87, a Georgia bill that goes even further than the infamous Arizona SB 1070.
The bill, currently awaiting the Governor's signature, is even worse that Arizona's SB 1070 in that it make it a crime punishable by 15 years in prison to get a job using false identity documents. It also criminalizes the transportation or harboring of undocumented people, as well as encouraging or helping immigrants without legal status to come to this state.
The highlight of the rally was the call by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) --the state's leading immigrant rights organization-- to protest July 1, the day when the law would go into effect.
"If the governor signs HB 87, we invite the community throughout the state of Georgia to the Day of Non-Compliance, " said Adelina Nicholls, executive director of GLAHR.
"On July 1, there will be no work, there will be no shopping, there will be no one to clean their houses or to look after their children, nor workers at restaurants. On July 1, we say NO!"
Nicholls also announced a May 22 Women's March in Defense of Immigrant Families. This march by women and their children will dramatize how Obama's "secure communities" program is dividing families.
Under that program, anyone brought into a county jail is fingerprinted and checked against the immigration service's database, usually resulting in an immigration "hold" placed on the undocumented so they can be deported. Georgia, like most other states, refuses to give drivers licenses to out-of-status immigrants, so even the most minor traffic citation can lead directly to deportation.
The Obama administration has carried out record numbers of deportations, telling the Latino community this was necessary to win Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform. But despite his campaign promise to pass a comprehensive immigration reform in his first year in office, he did not even propose a plan, despite having had at the beginning of his term enough Democrats in Congress to pass it without a single Republican vote.
In Georgia alone, more than 20,000 Latinos were deported in Obama's first two years --nearly one out of every forty Latino residents of the state.
HB 87 will accelerate this assault on families. In addition to criminalizing the undocumented and those associating with them, it allows police to stop anyone to check their immigration status, with the only restriction that the officer has to say that the person was a suspect on other grounds.
The impact of this on immigrant families had been illustrated earlier in the rally by Berenice Rodríguez, a tenth grade student at a private school in Atlanta. She said that if HB 87 became law, her family would be divided, as her mother and siblings would return to Mexico but they want her to stay to complete her education, since she won a full scholarship for high school and college.
"It's time we made a difference," the high school sophomore said. "If you look around you, you will see that you are not alone, and we have to stay together and united to make our dreams a reality.
"I am undocumented, and I am not ashamed, and I am not afraid. And you, too, should not be afraid, because we are going to fight to the end!"
Another undocumented student from the same school, Angel Salomé, also came out at the rally. He said he had won a scholarship in 8th grade, and as soon as he got to the new school he knew he was different.
"I took MARTA to school, while many other students were dropped off in Mercedes or BMW's," he said.
"It is a great thing that the son of a woman who works cleaning hotels can have the same education as the children of doctors and professionals," he said, "and I am proud to be her son."
"I am coming out as undocumented and unafraid because I'm fed up with lying to my friends, I'm fed up with living with that fear."
Together with the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), Salome, Rodríguez and others at their school are reaching out to students at other high school to organize undocumented and Latino youth generally into a movement against HB 87 and for legalization.
Also speaking at the rally were Charlie Fleming, President of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, and Ben Speight, organizing director of Teamster Local 728, the largest union local in Georgia and one of the largest in the South. Fleming focused on why the labor movement opposes anti-immigrant legislation, while Speight, recalling the march and rally by 75,000 Latinos held in Atlanta during the 2006 immigrant rights protest, centered him remarks on the importance of organizing, both in communities and on the job.
The rally had been opened by Teodoro Maus, who as Mexican consul in Atlanta played a central (though unofficial) role in creating GLAHR's predecessor organization a decade and a half ago. "Don Teo," as his many friends in the community call him, is now retired from service with the Mexican government and returned to Georgia to lead in the creation of GLAHR. He currently serves as president of the organization.
"Welcome to the congress, the congressional chamber of the workers and Latinos, this street," he said.
Referring to the many times Latinos have rallied on this street to demand that the human rights of immigrants be respected, Maus added, "This street is ours, it has become our office, our home."
Maus referred to recent comments by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal praising the Latino community. "But the governor separates the undocumented from the documented. This is a grave error. We are all together. We are all undocumented until all of us have papers. The governor needs to understand this.
"We are going to continue with the next step, which is to call for a boycott of Georgia. No one should vacation here, no conventions should come here, no one should come to party or celebrate here, until HB 87 is gone," he concluded.
The next action planned by GLAHR and other defenders of immigrant rights are a protest at the capitol when the governor announces he is signing the bill. GLAHR and the Georgia ACLU have announced that if the Governor signs HB 87 into law, they will file a lawsuit against it and ask for a temporary restraining order to block its implementation while the lawsuit is pending.