May Day rally marchers voice concern for those left out of proposed immigration reform bill

May Day rally marchers voice concern for those left out of proposed immigration reform bill
Supporters of immigration reform march toward Federal Plaza on May 1 in Chicago. Thousands marched in similar protests across the nation in a show of support for International Workers Day. Photo by Jonathan Gibby

It was the first truly warm day of spring, reaching a longed-for temperature above 80 degrees. Old men pushed their ice cream carts, the bells on them ringing as they moved. The sun filtered through the cracks between downtown’s skyscrapers and onto hundreds of marchers at this year’s May Day parade on Wednesday. The parade started at Union Park on the near West Side, ending in Daley Plaza in the Loop. The march represented a diverse mix of Chicago’s immigrants and their supporters: a brass band decked out in Guatemalan soccer jerseys, long-time activists against deportation chanting tirelessly and an 8-foot white cross bringing up the rear.

Immigration reform and what it could bring to the community was on many people’s minds, both those excited for the immigration reform legislation  that’s pending and others critical of those looking at the legislation through rose-tinted glasses.

Maria E. Gutierrez was marching with her co-workers at Interfaith Worker Justice, where she is national occupational health and safety coordinator. She, like others, knows that the proposed legislation, still making its way through Congress, will leave out some people and finds that to be a problem. In particular, anyone who arrived after Dec. 31, 2011, won’t be considered for legalization under the bill.

A man grips a U.S. flag during the May Day rally at Federal Plaza in Chicago, where speakers talked about passing comprehensive immigration reform. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) also attended and told the crowd that Americans should stand together to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. Photo by Lucio Villa

“I think [the legislation] won’t solve the problems of the immigrants at the moment. It’s not a real solution” to the many workplace problems facing immigrants, said Gutierrez, who is from Columbia. “Immigrants workers are exposed to the worst conditions in the workplace. They don’t get paid. They get exposed to hazardous chemicals.”

While any immigrant worker remains undocumented, Gutierrez argued, there is still the possibility of abuse. “Until workers have a real status, they cannot claim those rights” that would help them stand up against wage theft and other problems, she said.

With that, Gutierrez held up her sign and chanted: “Si se puede.

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