Immigration rallies planned for May 1 across the country

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 12:29 PM

Thousands of labor, civil rights and immigration activists plan to stage demonstrations nationwide Saturday, renewing their effort to pressure Congress into taking up comprehensive immigration reform.

The May 1 protests have been an annual ritual on behalf of immigration rights ever since 2006, when hundreds of thousands of people, in cities from coast to coast, turned out to urge Congress to grant legal status to illegal immigrants in the United States.

Immigration has gained renewed interest this month through the signing of a new law in Arizona. The measure allows local law enforcement officers to question people they suspect of being undocumented immigrants.

President Obama signaled Wednesday that a legislative overhaul of the nation's immigration laws may not be possible this year, telling reporters, "There may not be an appetite" for such legislation, but activists said the rallies are designed to demonstrate renewed political will.

The Service Employees International Union, one of the nation's most politically powerful labor organizations, is staging 16 demonstrations on Saturday, including one in the District.

"Immigrant and native-born workers are coming together to say, this is not an immigrant issue, this is an American issue," SEIU spokeswoman Ali Jost said. "And until we see a really smart fix, we're going to continue to see agony and economic suffering in our communities. Until we end illegal immigration and bring undocumented workers out of the shadows, we aren't going to have fairness in our labor market and we aren't going to be able to move forward."

The SEIU actions are part of a broader effort by faith, civil rights and immigration leaders to highlight immigration reform on May 1, which is National Workers Day. Reform Immigration for America is staging some 80 actions nationwide, which could draw tens of thousands to the streets, Jost said.

"People are responding to the enforcement-only mandates that we're seeing out of Arizona," Jost said. "We haven't had an immigration solution for decades, and people are calling for a real fix for these problems."

Jost said the SEIU protest in Washington will begin at 1 p.m. at Lafayette Square. Other rallies will be held in New York, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Seattle, Milwaukee, suburban Boston and in seven spots in California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland, San Bernardino and Orange County.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company