Pro immigration groups seek formal political power

Chicago Tribune/Oscar Avila and Antonio Olivo/[[August 14, 2006]]/formerly at,1,5158964.story?coll=chi-newslocalnorthwest-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

The organizers of massive coast-to-coast immigrant marches tried to keep their growing national movement headed in the same direction Sunday ([[August 13, 2006]]) by devising a strategy for influencing the fall elections.

About 400 participants from 25 states gathered for a two-day national convention in Hillside to debate how best to achieve legalization for all of the nation's 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants and a moratorium on raids and deportations by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Immigrant leaders created their first formal national structure, taking the place of a loose collection of labor unions, immigrant advocacy groups, ministers and students whose informality once was viewed as a strength.

The convention appointed about 60 volunteers to form a national steering committee called the National Alliance for Immigrant Rights. The group will help coordinate a national series of events on Sept. 30 that could include pickets and prayer vigils.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told participants they must focus on electoral strategies after mobilizing hundreds of thousands in the Loop and elsewhere. Gutierrez said he has given up hope that Congress will pass immigration reform before the November elections.

...Convention participants plan to keep marching. On Labor Day weekend, for example, Chicago-area activists plan a four-day trek from Chinatown to the Batavia district office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Some activists worried their announcement (of a possible general strike) would be seen as a bluff. But Chicago activist Carlos Perez said the group must prepare 'a strong counterattack' if the U.S. government greatly expands raids and deportations against illegal immigrants.

...Berna Ellorin, of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, fumed that Asians and other immigrants appeared to be merely token participants used for photo opportunities.

...Jorge Mujica, member of the Chicago-based March 10 Committee, said Korean, Irish and other activists are already among the leaders and expressed hope in a task force created Sunday for outreach to non-Latino immigrants and others. He said activists must create a permanent national network with broad support and real staying power...