Business Joins May Day Reform Cry in L.A.

Teresa Watanabe and Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2008

As thousands of immigrant workers and their supporters prepared to march through downtown Los Angeles today, some powerful new allies—business leaders—will be joining the call for an end to blanket immigration raids on work sites.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, joined by labor and political leaders at a news conference this morning, renewed its call for immigration reform that includes more worker visas and a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants.

Chamber officials will be armed with a new study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., scheduled for release today, showing that tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue could be lost if continued raids forced businesses to flee the state. They said the government should concentrate its limited resources and enforcement efforts on those companies with a clear history of exploitation of workers.

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“The raids are frightening workers. They are worrying employers,” [said Samuel Garrison, the chamber of commerce’s vice president of public policy]. “I think it’s going to cause of lot of businesses to think twice about coming to Los Angeles.”

But Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said officials would not stop enforcing the law. “It’s ICE’s sworn duty to enforce our nation’s immigration and customs law and the agency is going to aggressively pursue that mandate,” she said.

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This year, the May Day marches are expected to be smaller—about 20,000 in Los Angeles—and quieter. Nationwide marches are still expected to commemorate what has come to be known as International Workers’ Day. But widespread fear of government raids, along with the immigrant movement’s shift in focus from marches to civic participation and a decision not to push a boycott this year, are expected to dampen turnout, immigrant advocates say.

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Although march organizers have split in the last two years over whether to urge a boycott of work, school and consumer spending on May Day, they agreed this year to put aside boycott calls in favor of a united front on stopping the raids and working for comprehensive immigration reform, according to Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

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The county employment development corporation study, conducted by its chief economist Jack Kyser, analyzed three industries thought to employ high numbers of immigrant workers—fashion, food and furniture manufacturing—and found that about 10,000 businesses created nearly 500,000 direct and indirect jobs and produced $18.3 billion in annual wages. If 15% of those firms left—and several are being aggressively wooed by out-of-state business recruiters, Kyser said—the region would lose nearly 75,000 jobs, the report found.

“The immigrant worker built Southern California and the L.A. economy,” Garrison said. “At the end of the day, they benefit everyone, whether legal or not.”

Meanwhile, school officials in Los Angeles have prepared for possible May Day student walkouts with a broad-ranging plan emphasizing safety over disciplinary actions.

Walking out of school to participate in a march or rally will not result in an automatic suspension. Instead, school staff members intend to accompany student marchers to keep them as safe and monitored as possible. To return students to school, the district has stationed buses at seven locations, including in downtown, Sun Valley, the Harbor area and Van Nuys.

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