Rift Could Diminish Boycott's Strength

Juan Arreaga of Mexicans without Borders speaks in support of the boycott. Of the 47 organizations that sponsored Washington's immigration rally last month, his is the only group to publicly endorse the boycott.
Juan Arreaga of Mexicans without Borders speaks in support of the boycott. Of the 47 organizations that sponsored Washington's immigration rally last month, his is the only group to publicly endorse the boycott. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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By Krissah Williams and Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 1, 2006

Some local activists predicted that thousands of Washington area immigrants would participate in a national economic boycott today, but immigrant groups who have spoken out against the boycott said they fear that the immigration reform movement is being commandeered to promote political causes beyond immigration.

The public tug of war, which continued in the Washington area yesterday on Spanish-language radio, could result in more limited participation in the region than is expected in Dallas and Los Angeles, where the organizers of last month's massive protests have been more unified in support of today's boycott, which asks immigrants to refrain from buying goods and to stay home from work and school.

Police in Los Angeles said they expect a rally that could draw as many as a half-million people. Some major national firms that rely heavily on immigrant labor said they would close for the day. Perdue Farms said about half of its chicken processing plants would close, and Tyson Foods Inc. said nine of its 15 beef and pork plants will not operate.

Local business owners said they did not know what to expect. Some said they would close, and several construction firms said they would allow their employees to take the day off.

Ricardo Juarez, coordinator of Mexicans Without Borders in Northern Virginia, and a local leader of the boycott, predicted that "real economic impact" would be felt in the Washington area.

But Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigration Coalition, said he continues to encourage people to conduct business as usual so that they don't risk their jobs. And the Rev. Jose E. Hoyos, director of the Arlington Catholic Diocese's Spanish Apostolate, said he believes people will heed his message to go to work.

"A lot of people have said to me that their lives are going to be normal," Hoyos said.

The disagreement over the boycott played out last week in a series of news conferences. Many leaders of the April 10 immigration rally on the Mall cautioned against participation in the boycott, and some activists from the Washington region and elsewhere encouraged immigrants to stay away from work, schools and stores.

"What we don't want is for people to go around and confuse the community around the country. And that is exactly what has happened," Contreras said. "Sadly, there are those who claim that they own the movement. The folks that came here . . . would say that they were the people who held the gran marcha , the [March 25 rally] in L.A., when in reality that was not the truth."

The discord, Contreras said, is not over whether boycotting is a valid tactic. But with Congress just back from a recess after a contentious debate on the subject -- and with a recent CNN poll showing that 77 percent of Americans favor allowing some illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship -- he said most local activists feel it is best to wait to see how Congress reacts.

Some local Latino leaders said they worry about being associated with a Los Angeles-based group, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), that has been active in promotion of the boycott. They said they fear that the group's broad-based opposition to Bush administration policies could hinder attempts to win allies for immigration reform on Capitol Hill.

ANSWER protested numerous administration policies, including sanctions on Cuba, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. The organization began supporting immigrants' causes last year in opposition to the Minuteman Project's plan to patrol the southern U.S. border, said Carlos Alvarez, a Los Angeles-based ANSWER spokesman.

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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