May 3 - 10, 2006
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Building on the momentum gained by a massive march through Hartford less than a month ago (see Hartford News, April 12-19, 2006), local advocates for immigration reform staged a mass rally in Bushnell Park Monday afternoon. The rally was part of a nation-wide “Day of Action” which included a call for a total economic boycott by immigrants and those supporting their cause.
In Hartford, several stores did close and many took the day off to attend the rally. However, although organizers of the “Day of Action” called for parents to keep their children home from school on Monday, a spokesperson for the Hartford Public School system said that absentee levels among faculty and students was about normal.
Demands for immigrant reform have been brought to the fore recently by two proposals now being considered by the U.S. Congress. One would establish a way for illegal immigrants to become legal citizen of the United States; the other would make being an illegal alien a felony.
Although the one-day economic boycott was mainly symbolic, particularly in Hartford, a long-range boycott might have serious effects on the U.S. economy.
According to statistics compiled by the Associated Press, the Pew Hispanic Center and the website uscis.gov, there are approximately 12 million immigrants without papers currently living in the U.S. with approximately 850,000 more arriving annually. Immigrants compose 5 percent of the U.S. workforce and are concentrated in several key sectors. For instance, 25 percent of U.S. farm workers are illegal immigrants, 14 percent of construction workers, 17 percent of cleaning professionals and 12 percent of food preparation employees. A mass strike by farm workers could seriously deplete food stocks and cause shortages of particular items and extremely high prices.
Although the economic boycott only lasted one day, two of the nation’s largest chicken processors, Perdue and Tyson, closed several of their plants on Monday.
One sign carried by two young women at Monday’s rally pointed to the immigrants’ potential economic power, “We are not one, we are not 100. We are millions and we are working for this country.”
The immigrants’ confidence in their own strength was also evident in what has become their slogan, “Si Se Puede” (Yes, we can do it).
“I came to the rally because I support the immigrant movement 100 percent,” said Ana Alfaro, a native of Honduras who came to the United States 30 years ago.
“The government in Washington has to be proactive in setting up a way to legalize the immigrants who are here already so that they can freely be part of the American Dream, to have a good job with a promising future, to buy a car, to own a home. In the countries we come from, that’s almost impossible.”
Laureano Gomez, a native of Colombia, spent the afternoon selling numerous South and Central American flags out of a shopping cart he had brought to the rally.
Through his granddaughter, who served as his interpreter, Gomez said that all the flags had been selling well, but the American flag was the best seller.