An estimated 700,000 people attended the Immigrants’ Rights march in downtown Chicago on May 1, 2006, in what has been said to be one of the largest rallies in American history. As people marched down Jackson Boulevard, chants could be heard from blocks away: “Si, se puede! Yes, we can!” Hundreds of thousands of documented and undocumented individuals marched in solidarity, demanding rights for the estimated 11 million undocumented individuals currently residing in the United States.
CAIR-Chicago staff and volunteers were present, carrying signs with slogans such as “Muslims for a just and humane immigration policy”. Standing at the sidewalk, in a show of solidarity with thousands of protesters, CAIR-Chicago representatives shouted words of encouragement to the crowds as they cheered back. The message was clear: Muslims stand united with the sea of Latino, Asian, Irish and African undocumented immigrants seeking an honorable resolution to their predicament. The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago took a leading role in bringing the Muslim masses out to march in the rally. Organizations including IMAN and the Mosque Foundation were visible alongside Church groups and worker groups chanting in solidarity with them. Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Sheikh Jamal Said and other Muslim leaders spoke at the main event to the thousands in attendance.
“What we witnessed today was a true display of democracy. It was the people speaking – legally and peacefully,” said CAIR-Chicago Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab. “But that’s just the half of it,” he added. “If the people shone, then so did the authorities. I was just as blown away by the preparedness and professionalism of the Chicago Police and City workers as I was by the passionate outpouring of the rally participants.”
“Within moments of the massive crowds clearing Jackson Boulevard, police and city sanitation workers were there, restoring order. Today, Chicago demonstrated why it’s the world’s best city.”
Mobilizing around an issue that has been at the very heart of congressional debate this year has brought together activists, school teachers, religious figures, and immigrants alike. What started off as a reaction to HR 4437, the anti-immigration legislation bill that passed in the House last December, has swept the country in a proactive demand for comprehensive reform.
“It started off with people protesting the passage of a bill that criminalizes immigrants and individuals that help them in anyway; now, it has become the demand for rights that has swept the nation,” said CAIR-Chicago Governmental Relations Coordinator Sadiya Ahmed. “Proponents of anti-immigration policies may have started a battle, but the proponents of comprehensive immigration reform have set the tone for the movement in these last few months.”
Currently pending in the Senate is what may be one of the most controversial pieces of legislation that the United States Senate has ever faced: a bill that seeks to criminalize people like doctors, teachers, and members of the clergy for providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented individuals. In stark opposition, IL Congressman Luis Gutierrez and IL Senator Dick Durbin have emphatically demanded a path of to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented workers, and relief for those who provide humanitarian assistance to them.
Some of the more problematic provisions of the proposed legislation grant authorities the ability to indefinitely detain individuals, monitor and deny applications for legal status at the slightest behest. They also grant unchecked authority to local law enforcement agents to enforce national immigration laws. The Muslim community, which has been the single-most ostracized community since 9/11, would be the one most at risk of facing basic violations.
“It is imperative that we opt for immigration reform measures that are comprehensive in more ways than one,” Rehab said. “Firstly, they should provide a path to citizenship for long-standing, law-abiding undocumented immigrants while halting future illegal immigration via enforced borders. Secondly, they should provide for national security while averting exclusory clauses that freeze out a specific group on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity.”
For now, that remains to be seen. Stay tuned as the immigration debate rages on.
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