Immigrant leaders hold convention

August 14, 2006|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- The organizers of massive coast-to-coast immigrant marches tried to keep their growing national movement headed in the same direction yesterday by devising a strategy for the fall elections.

About 400 people from 25 states gathered for a two-day national convention in Hillside, Ill., to debate how best to achieve legalization for 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 catch-all of labor unions, immigrant advocacy groups, ministers and students whose informality was once 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, an Illinois Democrat, told participants that they must focus on electoral strategies after mobilizing hundreds of thousands. Gutierrez said he has given up hope that Congress will pass immigration reform before November.

"It's nice to have marches. I go to all of them," Gutierrez said. "But there is something that has to happen after a march. You register to vote. Congress will only move when it is in fear of losing power."

But some lawmakers say the marches have actually mobilized the opponents of legalization as well.

On Saturday, about 20 members of the Chicago Minuteman Project, a group that opposes illegal immigration, protested the convention on a sidewalk outside the hotel. Rick Biesada, the group's director, said he was concerned about the convention's goals of more sophisticated organizing.

"I don't know what they plan to accomplish," Biesada said. "It won't be good."

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