TOPICS > Politics

Immigrants Organize Economic Boycotts Across United States

May 1, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: What was the impact of today’s immigration protests? And where does the movement go from here?

We get two perspectives. Juan Jose Gutierrez is director of Latino Movement USA, a Los Angeles-based group that helped organize today’s boycott.

And Leslie Sanchez is chief executive officer of the Impacto Group, a market research firm focused on the Hispanic community. She served as director of the White House Initiative on Hispanic Education under the first President Bush.

Juan Jose Gutierrez, you were one of the organizers. Did what you envisioned come about? And what was the message it sent to the rest of the country?

JUAN JOSE GUTIERREZ, Latino Movement USA: What I envisioned that is going to happen as a result of this very remarkable and historic day is that the American people are going to begin paying attention to the very just quest by immigrants for legalization.

I think that, as every poll is beginning to indicate, the tide is turning. And today’s boycott, today’s incredible day, is going to make Americans move fast in the direction of doing the right thing, of urging Congress and the president of the United States, who have been politicking on this issue for way too long.

I think the time for doing that is over. The American people are impatient. They’re sick and tired of the polarizing over this issue. They want to do the right thing.

They know that these people are the ones that are doing the tough jobs that nobody else wants to do. They’re taking care of their kids. They’re their neighbors. They’re the people that serve them food, wash the dishes, and do all the dirty work that needs to be done that other people don’t want to do.

And, you know, ultimately I think that the American people is going to see right through all the politicizing of this issue, and the wrong way, and say, “You know what? We need to do the right thing. Let’s legislate a comprehensive immigration reform that allows people to become legalized, that lays out a clear path to citizenship for those that choose to become Americans citizens.”

I do believe that the majority of these immigrants is going to embrace citizenship given the chance, and I think that this country will be so much the better for it.

Capturing America's attention

Leslie Sanchez
Impacto Group
I think the battle cry for comprehensive reform is legitimate, but these type of politicized protests is not going to bode well with, I think, the American public or mainstream Hispanics.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, he put two issues out, Leslie Sanchez. Let's take them one at a time. First, as Juan Jose suggested, did this get America's attention?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, Impacto Group: I really think, overall, it's a fizzle, and I know it's probably too early to tell, especially on the West Coast. But the reason I say that is we have to look at what the intent of this was.

The intent, according to many of the organizers, was to wreak economic chaos. It not a coincidence that they picked May Day, the international socialist day of the worker, to celebrate this.

This is not like the protests you saw in March and April that were organic, in the sense that they were Hispanic-sponsored immigrant groups, faith-based-oriented Spanish language radio, and they came together collectively to talk about the things my colleague here just mentioned.

But, you know, I think that is what drew America's attention and said, "You know what? We really need to look at the provisions outlined by President Bush with a guest-worker program."

This animal today is completely different. I think it's much more politicized. It's organized by umbrella groups that have an intent other than immigration reform. And I don't think they've got, you know, what they said they wanted all weekend, which was havoc on American cities.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Gutierrez's second point was that this will catch the attention of the national legislature and push along the effort for immigration reform; do you agree?

LESLIE SANCHEZ: I think that the effort is moving. You know, you've already seen a House bill that's passed with some provisions that I personally don't agree with, and I think a lot of people feel are very harsh. The Senate has pressure placed upon it. And the president has been working very hard, since 1999 when he first started this effort, on comprehensive reform.

I think the battle cry for comprehensive reform is legitimate, but these type of politicized protests, where you're basically allowing several on the fringe elements of the radical left, including some organizations that are bringing in Iraq and the war and other discussions to disrupt U.S. economies, is not going to bode well with, I think, the American public or mainstream Hispanics.

Mainstream Hispanics do not want to vote against economic, you know, capitalization; they want to be part of it. They don't want amnesty; they want a legitimate process for citizenship. And that's why this is distinctly different, and I think that's why we have to be careful of a backlash.

Taking an American position

Juan Jose Gutierrez
Latino Movement USA
What the people did today is that they took an American position for their constitutional and civil rights in this great nation.

RAY SUAREZ: Juan Jose Gutierrez, is it so different? Did the immigrants from many places, but certainly from Latin America, out on the streets of the country today put forward those ideas, that Leslie Sanchez says they hold, by staying away from work, by not spending money?

JUAN JOSE GUTIERREZ: No. What the people did today is that they took an American position for their constitutional and civil rights in this great nation. Nothing could be further from the truth that, just because some people from the left happen to join us in solidarity, that that in itself describes the remarkable historic event of today.

The truth of the matter is, is that, by the millions, men and women, hard-working men and women that do the tough jobs in America, who pay taxes, abide by the rules, have children, they have to work hard to put food on the table, you know, they decided to stand up, to do the American thing, you know, to take a page from history of what this great country has had to gone through to right the wrongs of this nation, and they've said, "Enough."

And I think that, you know, they did it the right way; they did it the American way. They took to the streets. They exercised the right, you know, to do so. They are petitioning their representatives.

The representatives are supposed to be doing the business of the people. What have we gotten from marching so much by the millions for weeks on end, more than a million at a time in L.A. on March 25th? You know, no one is paying attention the way that we would expect that they would at this point.

We have a broken immigration system that needs urgent attention; that has not happened. The time to act is now. And I think that that's what the people are saying.

And that's precisely why the call has already gone out, and we will be in force on May 19th of this year, right in front of the White House (inaudible) you know, clamoring once again for America to rise up to the occasion and to do the right thing once again, as it has done throughout its history, and incorporate this newest wave of immigrants into the mainstream.

That's what's made America great: its capacity to incorporate wave after wave of immigrants into this nation so that they can better contribute, you know, to the greatness of America. That hasn't happened yet, but I have no doubt that after today that will happen.

Sense of entitlement

Leslie Sanchez
Impacto Group
This is something where people do not have rights to come into this country illegally and then have a right to have certain, you know, expectations for entitlement. That is the part that is really hard for many in our country to stomach.

RAY SUAREZ: I saw you shaking your head. You wanted to respond. Go ahead.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: I really do. The biggest problem, I think, Americans and mainstream Hispanics and other immigrants who came here legitimately are going to have is that this sense of entitlement -- I mean, where does that actually come from?

This does not hearken back to the civil rights efforts of the 1960s, where there was something -- like, they were, you know, really working to codify and have legitimacy with the 14th Amendment. This is something where people do not have rights to come into this country illegally and then have a right to have certain, you know, expectations for entitlement.

That is the part that is really hard for many in our country to stomach. And I think the more that they do this in your face, "We are entitled to something," versus saying, "You know what? We want to come out of the shadows. We want to be a legitimate part of the American society. There needs to be a way to trade labor the way we trade goods and services with Mexico, Latin America, and the rest of the world."

That's a different conversation from this right that you owe us. I mean, we're a very generous country. I think the United States gives $30 billion to Mexico and Latin America every year, in terms of remittances. And now you say you're entitled to those things? That is really not going to fly in America.

RAY SUAREZ: But I think Mr. Gutierrez suggested earlier that the sense of entitlement comes from the significant role that the workers, who are his constituents, play in the economy. They didn't just arrive to demonstrate. They've been keeping the businesses that we saw in those earlier reports running, the ones that stayed open and the ones that closed today.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Sure. I mean it's not a move against free speech. I think the idea is: Do undocumented immigrants have a right to social services? Do they have a right to protest? Do they have a right to make demands on U.S. American consumers and voters?

That's the question. There is a difference between how, I think, the U.S. Congress is even going to compromise in having a comprehensive immigration bill, but they're not going to tolerate in-your-face, you know, kind of measures.

An underground economy

Juan Jose Gutierrez
Latino Movement USA
I think the tide is turning. And I think that the message to the American people and to the government of this country from immigrants and their allies today has been loud and clear: We will not take it anymore. We want legalization.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Gutierrez, go ahead.

JUAN JOSE GUTIERREZ: Two points, Mr. Suarez. I think that something remarkable happened today. You know, when this lady is talking about the American people, you know, she makes a whole lot of mischaracterizations that have no base in reality.

The fact of the matter is that, today, when many companies decided to stand up for their employees, their undocumented employees, and they advised the public that they were not going to operate today because they want to extend solidarity to their employees, I think that that says a lot about the character and the nobility of the American people.

Because I think that, if the business community had decided to stand up with their workforce, I think that the rest of the American family, which are the vast majority of the people in this country, are not going to take extremist positions and this propaganda that gets thrown around all the time, that the majority of the American people are against immigrants.

How can a country of immigrants be against immigrants? The fact of the matter is that there are now poll after poll that are coming out, one by the Wall Street Journal, that indicates that over 61 percent of the American public wants constructive resolution of this issue, and, in fact, favor legalization and a clear path to citizenship for the undocumented population.

I think the tide is turning. And I think that the message to the American people and to the government of this country from immigrants and their allies today has been loud and clear: We will not take it anymore. We want legalization. We are contributing greatly to this economy.

It's false that America gives $30 billion to Latin America in remittances. Let us not forget that that's the result of the labor and sweat of all of these hardworking future Americans that have to take care of their families. That's what's truly going on right here.

And the fallacy of the arguments that are being made right now as we speak, you know, I think that are having less and less effect, and I think that the people will ultimately stand up with us.


RAY SUAREZ: Your response?

LESLIE SANCHEZ: I think America is a country of immigrants; we support legal immigration. And we do not want to see -- any community want to see anybody taken advantage of.

That's the problem you have with illegal immigrants in an underground economy: They're victimized. They're taken advantage of. He's exactly right.

And I think people see that and have compassion for that. What they don't want to see are these immigrants who do not have rights in this America come here and demand things from a very generous nation.

And looking back, the $30 billion, I mean $17 billion goes to Mexico alone, and that's the Inter-American Development Bank.

The last part I would add is my company does focus groups. We've been across the country talking about immigration, border security, and, especially, I would say among Hispanic women. And a lot of folks that live along the southern U.S.-Mexico border do not want to have an open amnesty; they want to see people earn it.

They want to know: Who are these individuals? Do they have a criminal background check? What is their intent? Are they paying taxes? There is a legitimate way to have a good conversation about this.

I think Congress and the president are moving in that direction, but to blindly say, "We will give amnesty to everyone just because you got here illegally," will never fly in America.

RAY SUAREZ: Leslie Sanchez, Juan Jose Gutierrez, thank you both.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Thank you.

JUAN JOSE GUTIERREZ: Thank you.