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Activists split over new 'Day Without an Immigrant'


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Damn it! I was looking forward to this too! It's the only day of the year I can order a cheeseburger and not have someone **** it up


NORTH COUNTY ---- Immigrant rights activists from Los Angeles say they plan to repeat last May's "Day Without an Immigrant" boycott in which many immigrants passed on work and school to protest what they called unfair immigration proposals, but local activists say a second such protest may not be a good idea.

Local activists for the immigrant community are still considering whether they would participate in another national day of protest. But other state and national figures, including Dolores Huerta, a leading Latino rights activist who co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, say they would not support a boycott.

One of the main concerns among those opposing this year's boycott is fear of a backlash against the community. Some say a boycott could lead to workers losing their jobs, students being expelled and further emphasizing critics' views of Latinos as outsiders.

Last year's protest created some public backlash from anti-illegal immigration groups who called the boycott irreverent and misdirected.

Bill De La Fuente, who founded a North County-based Latino Merchants Association, said he supported last year's protest, but he is not sure he will again this year.

"I think we've got to get smart and use different tactics," De La Fuente said.

A group called the March 25 Coalition, which organized a mass demonstration in Los Angeles last year, said they plan to call on supporters to avoid work, school, shopping or selling on May 1.

The coalition, made up of various organizations and individuals, says it supports an amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the country.

"The goal is to pressure the Congress and the Bush administration to come up with a satisfactory immigration reform that will be inclusive, humane, proimmigrant and proworker," said Javier Rodriguez, a spokesman for the coalition.

Nativo Lopez of Los Angeles, one of the principal leaders of the coalition last year and who split with the organization in August, recently said his group would not support the boycott. Lopez is president of the Mexican American Political Association, a Latino rights advocacy group based in Los Angeles.

"We are of the opinion that the call for a general strike is both premature and irresponsible at this juncture," Lopez said in a statement.

Speaking at a recent immigrant rights conference, Huerta called on activists to work with the new Democrat-led Congress on immigration reform. She is president of a Bakersfield-based community organizing foundation.

Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, said calls for amnesty through protests will not work. Bilbray, who said he supports stronger border enforcement, was recently named chairman of the Republican-dominated Immigration Reform Caucus.

"We're willing to sit down with anyone on this issue, but true immigration reform, not amnesty," Bilbray said. "I would love to have another day without illegal aliens ... not going to emergency rooms. Maybe we can save a lot of money May 1st."

Last year, Congress debated two immigration reform bills, but failed to reach a compromise. The House version of the bill emphasized strict enforcement measures, while the Senate version included more border enforcement along with a legalization process and a guest-worker program.

Rodriguez said the coalition opposed both versions because they were not inclusive enough.

In North County, thousands of protesters took part in demonstrations to show their social and economic clout. Though many said the effects were largely symbolic, numerous Latino-owned businesses closed and school officials said there were as many as 10,000 more absentees than normal at local schools.

But some business owners experienced a backlash, De La Fuente said. Negative comments were made against some of the owners that participated and anti-illegal immigrant groups were emboldened by the protests, he said.

Consuelo Martinez, who founded the a grass-roots immigrant rights group called the Escondido Human Rights Committee, said members of the group have not discussed whether to participate in a new boycott.

She added that there are measures supporters can take to minimize a negative reaction.

For example, Martinez said she plans to make prior arrangements with her employer to take the day off. She said students could participate in special learning activities, such as lessons about immigration and workers' rights.

"I think there was a backlash," Martinez said. "In any movement, there is going to be a backlash, whether it's anti-war or proimmigrant, but that shouldn't stop people from standing up for what they believe in."

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