About New York

By Anne Jaclard.

May Day 2009: Immigrants, Jobs, and Politics in a Time of Economic Crisis; Haitians

We had two May Day demonstrations in New York City this year, one sponsored by unions and workers’ centers, the other dominated by the Left, both called by immigrants rights groups. The turn-out was largely Latino and heavily students. Many national and ethnic groups announced themselves with banners, and there were contingents of the unemployed and homeless.

Many signs and chants at both demonstrations, besides those calling for amnesty for the undocumented, were based on the view that government bail-out money should be used for education, housing, health care, etc. instead of going to Wall Street institutions. High school and college students asked for changes in the law to permit undocumented youth to obtain state aid for college, and asked for aid. One flyer by a Left organization consisted of a part telling students they need to demand more money for education, and another part of equal size denouncing the mayor on the sole grounds that he is very rich.

The prevailing view that real change can result from redistributing wealth hobbles the challenge we face in a time of economic crisis to have the inherent defects of capitalism understood and accompanied by a demand for its uprooting. We were sorry not to find clear openings to discuss this among the young and foreign born.

And what happened to the huge immigrants rights movement of three years ago, when millions turned out at May Day demonstrations across the country? In New York, Union Square Park had been so packed then that you could not move once you entered it; this year, several hundred people (in a heavy rain storm) filled only a fraction of the park. Meanwhile, life has gotten harder for immigrants, with many jailed and deported during these three years. Bush stepped up work-place raids and deportations, and many people left voluntarily due to a declining demand for cheap labor that cannot be filled by desperate citizens.

Did the movement die because people lost hope when no major changes in the law resulted from the mass demonstrations? Was it constrained by prevailing political organizations to rely on the Democrats to pass more favorable laws? Immigrants rights has recently become a demand of some unions, quite a change from the days when they feared the competition of foreigners and kept them out of unionized jobs. But the new concern for immigrants may be more the result of unions’ need to preserve themselves from shrinking into oblivion by getting new members, than of any ideological shift.

While the U.S. Left concentrates on defending Cuba and demanding the U.S. end close to 50 years of stupid and harmful sanctions and embargo, the same Left largely ignores the one million Haitian immigrants in our midst-including the people who drown during attempts to get here and those here who are threatened with deportation. Many are locked in prison while awaiting rulings on their refuge status (Cubans remain free during the process, and are presumed to be entitled to the status). 30,000 Haitians have final orders of deportation against them, although non-criminal deportations have halted while the U.S. government considers giving these 30,000 Temporary Protective Status (TPS), which would allow them to remain temporarily. That status is sometimes granted when a home country has suffered disasters that make it impossible for repatriated people to find work and that make much of the population dependent on their remittances from abroad. Haiti certainly qualifies-it had three hurricanes last summer and is suffering greatly from the world economic crisis, yet the U.S. has yet to grant it TPS status.

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