LOS ANGELES — The protests that drew national attention to the future of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are relaunching even though sweeping reform legislation has stalled on Capitol Hill.
Weeks ago organizers picked Monday for dozens of demonstrations nationwide, a signal that what began as a string of disparate events — attracting tens and even hundreds of thousands of people — has become more coordinated.
"We don’t have a leader like Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, but this is now a national immigrant rights movement,” said Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has helped organize rallies around Chicago.
Activists say the Senate’s decision last week not to push through a bill that would have given many illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship is neither a cause for celebration nor a lost opportunity — it’s a chance to regroup. And that’s what they’ll do at demonstrations planned from Florida to Oregon that include school walkouts and downtown marches in major cities.
Across California over 20 events were planned Monday, ranging from a rally in Bakersfield to a ceremony in San Diego dedicated to immigrants who’ve died while trying to illegally cross the border in desolate desert regions.
In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has been at the forefront of the Catholic Church’s calls for activism in support of illegal immigrants, planned to lead a candlelight vigil.
Ahead of Monday’s events, hundreds of thousands of people protested in Dallas, while tens of thousands rallied in San Diego and at a handful of smaller demonstrations around the country.
Religious groups have been coordinating the protests in recent weeks, with dozens of unions, schools and civil rights organizations.
Part of their goal has been to recruit more Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants — most protesters so far have been Hispanics and high school or university students.
Many groups had been preparing to rally since December, when the House passed a bill to build more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, make criminals of people who helped undocumented immigrants and turn being in the country illegally from a civil violation to a felony.
Those mostly local and regional efforts, supported by popular Spanish-language disc jockeys, quickly converted into national plans after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in dozens of cities last month, culminating March 25 with a 500,000-strong rally in Los Angeles.
Organizers say the national strategy that has evolved from the protests will let them keep pressuring lawmakers, though legislation offering eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants staggered Friday when Senate Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree to a final vote.
"This fight is not over,” said Juan Carlos Ruiz, coordinator of the National Capital Immigration Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based group which includes faith, labor and business groups from a handful of surrounding states.
Though the groups are united around the need to protest, they have their own agendas, especially proposals to create a large and regulated guest worker program. Unions say that would hurt organizing efforts and bring down wages, while civil rights groups say making it easier for immigrants to get U.S. work permits will sharply reduce illegal immigration.
Voter registration drives
What organizers agree on is the need to convert energy from protests into massive voter registration drives.
Voter registration and citizenship education initiatives are set to begin in several states after a "Day Without An Immigrant” campaign planned for May 1, an event which asks immigrants nationwide to stay home from work and school, and refrain from buying American products.
"Marches will only get you so far,” said Armando Navarro, coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, an umbrella organization for Hispanic activist groups in Southern California. "There has to be an electoral component to get the Republicans out of the majority.”
On the Net:
Demonstration location list: www.april10.org<