With immigration reform finally under discussion in Washington, thousands of Chicagoans will be marching on May Day, focused on ending deportations and demanding legalization for all immigrants.
Immigrant rights mobilizations have become a May Day tradition in Chicago in recent years, and this year’s supporting coalition is larger than ever, said organizer Jorge Mujica.
They’ll meet and rally at 2 p.m. at Union Park, Ashland and Lake, marching to Federal Plaza, Jackson and LaSalle, for a rally at 4:30 p.m.
At 2:30 p.m, the Chicago Federation of Labor  and church and labor groups will mark May Day — an international holiday commemorating the immigrant-led movement for an eight-hour day in Chicago in 1886 — at the Haymarket Monument, Randolph and Desplaines, before joining the march to the Federal Plaza.
Dramatically ramped-up deportations — 400,000 a year under the current administration — have “really galvanized the community and highlighted the need for reform,” said Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights . “They have affected many, many people in our communities.”
Dragnet raids, supposedly aimed at criminals, have swept up asylum seekers, lawful permanent residents with minor infractions, and immigrants with no criminal record, many of whom spend months in detention without judicial review, human rights groups say .
Path to citizenship
Meanwhile, an immigration reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate is “overall fairly good,” offering a path to permament residency and citizenship, and protecting applicants from immigration enforcement, Tsao said. It remains to be seen whether the path to citizenship survivies the legislative process, he pointed out.
ICIRR is concerned about new restrictions on family reunification visas and the elimination of diversity visas which have been provided to immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe, he said.
He also questioned the need for “millions and millions of additional dollars” provided by the bill for fence construction, increased border patrols, and surveillence drones “at a time when immigration from Latin America is almost nonexistent” and the detention system is overloaded.
And advocates say the path to citizenship is too long, offering provisional residency for ten years before permanent residency is offered, with another three years to eligibility for citizenship — especially with work requirements for applicants.
“The longer it is, the more danger there is of people falling off,” Tsao said.
The work requirement is particularly daunting for immigrants who work in small businesses that pay cash, said Mujica, an organizer with Arise Chicago , which assists low-wage immigrant workers.
“Often we meet workers in restaurants, car washes, and small laundries who are paid in cash and have no documents showing they are employed,” though they may have held the same job for many years, he said. Such workers “don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said.
The long provisional period could also leave immigrant workers vulnerable to exploitation by employers — the same problem those with undocumented status are face, he said.