"No one could have anticipated this kind of involvement even as little as six months ago," says organizer Rich Stolz of Fair Immigration Reform Movement, one of the organizing coalitions for National Action Day. "Once it got announced, it spread nationally, regionally, locally through groups which have been building relationships for years. They know this is the moment to do something unprecedented."
Organizers originally designed a broad platform they hoped would attract a wide array of immigrants - Pacific Islanders, Southeast Asians, Europeans, Africans, and Pakistanis. The specific objection is legislation, approved by the US House in December, that makes it a felony (rather than a civil offense) to be in the US illegally. But organizers are also asking for something: worker protections, civil rights measures, family reunification, and immigration reform that defines "a path to citizenship for current undocumented and future immigrants to the US."
"This is America's civil rights battle for the 21st century," says Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization for about 150 groups in New York State that work with immigrants and refugees. Immigrants are anticipating a duel between the House and the Senate over immigration-reform language, she says, but Monday's actions are really about "whether or not America will continue to be what it has always been - a nation of immigrants.
Anger has been building among immigrants for decades, Ms. Hong says, but it has intensified over the past decade, as immigrants felt targeted by welfare reform, what they see as a civil-rights rollback, and, most recently, anti- terror laws. Post-9/11 crackdowns, legislation denying social services to illegals in California, and Minutemen border operations have roused immigrants, legal and not. "Immigrants have been feeling like targets for all that is wrong and want to stand up and show how they contribute to the diversity and richness of America," she says.