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Christa Hillstrom / Medill

Demonstrators in Union Park hope that Chicago will listen to their call to end deportations and raids that separate families.

Organizer: Together we can fix a broken system

by Christa Hillstrom and Olubunmi Ishola
May 01, 2008


Christa Hillstrom / Medill

At the Chicago May Day March, people of all backgrounds demand legalization for all.

For workers across the globe, May 1 stands for social progress, economic equality and labor rights.  In Chicago, International Workers' Day means rights for all, and thousands of Chicagoans are seizing the chance to make themselves heard – especially on issues of immigration.

The march, one of more than 100 taking place nationwide, according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, started with a rally in Union Park before finishing in Federal Plaza.

Jose Artemio Arreola, political director of the coalition and a key organizer of the May Day March, talked to Medill Reports about the issues at the heart of the rally.

Medill Reports:  There are a lot of people here today.  Why did more than 2,000 people show up here in Union Park this morning?

Jose Artemio Arreola:  Well there are even more people than this around the rest of the country.  This is one single march in Chicago, but we started marches all around the country, and we are organizing and mobilizing.  It’s important for us to get out on May Day because it’s an international workers’ day, and we are demanding workers’ rights, and immigration is a part of those rights.

MR:  What are the demands this year?  Have they changed much since last year?

JAA:  It’s officially about legalization for all, but a lot of groups come now and they bring their own messages and their own agendas – like stop the war, health care, NAFTA – those are some of the main issues.  This year, we also demand a stop to the deportations and “No Match” letters [sent by the government claiming discrepancies in Social Security numbers].”

MR:  What’s the situation for immigrants like this year compared to last year?

JAA:  We are suffering a lot more from the separation of families.  There are more deportations in some neighborhoods, and also a lot of local laws have been passed that make things harder for the immigrants in the communities.  For example, there are problems where people don’t want to rent to others who are undocumented.  A lot of things like that, so today we’re regrouping to talk about all kinds of laws.

MR:  Have raids been increasing?

JAA:  Oh yeah, a lot.  They’re increasing in the neighborhoods; they really attack our communities.  It’s not just the raid, but it’s the way they do it.  They scare the communities.  They sweep in like it’s a war.

MR:  What’s something you would like everyone in Chicago to really understand about this struggle?

JAA:  A lot of people ask, ‘Why don’t people just come legally?’  I would say two things:  First, there’s no process to come here legally for these people.  Second, those people who are undocumented here are already contributing to the community.  They’re working hard.  They pay taxes.  They already contribute to a healthy economic system.

MR:  What else are you doing to achieve these changes?

JAA:  Well, today we are really pushing for voter registration.  We want to make a huge campaign to turn out the people on Election Day.  You see, voting is power, power is voting.  We want to demonstrate this.

MR:  What kind of change do you hope to see?

JAA:  Our hope is that the presidential candidates will try to push immigration reform.  With the election year that’s a very important issue, but some candidates don’t want to touch it.  And if they do touch it, it’s just a very little bit.  I think this is something that’s a very big problem in the country.  We have to face it, we have to fix it.  Our system is broken and we want everyone to know so we can make solutions.