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May Day protests show weak immigration movement

Associated Press Modified: May 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm •  Published: May 2, 2012
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ATLANTA (AP) — While a black preacher told about 100 immigration protesters that incarcerated blacks and detained immigrants faced similar challenges, Jesse Morgan stood to one side of the May Day demonstrators, holding a large sign that read "Radical Queers Resist."

Although the rally was geared toward illegal immigrants, the 24-year-old Georgia State sociology major said gays can relate, too, because they often face discrimination.

"And besides," he said. "There are queers who are undocumented."

Over the last several years, May Day rallies in the United States have been dominated by activists pushing for a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. But since 2006, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets in cities across America, the rallies have gotten smaller, less focused and increasingly splintered by any number of groups with a cause.

In New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., May Day protests were dominated by Occupy Wall Street activists, a sign of how far the immigration reform movement has fallen off the radar, unable to compete with the weak economy.

Immigration activists say they are not worried about decreasing numbers at rallies because their focus the last few years has been more on getting eligible immigrants to become U.S. citizens and vote.

And yet activists acknowledge the threat to illegal immigrants may be stronger than ever with the U.S. Supreme Court considering Arizona's tough, controversial crackdown. In 2010, Arizona passed a law that, among other things, required police to ask for immigration papers from anyone they stop or arrest and suspect is in the country illegally. The Obama administration has challenged the law.

The court's ruling could have a far-reaching effect on a handful of states, including Georgia, that have similar laws.

Gustavo Madrigal, a 20-year-old illegal immigrant who attended the Atlanta May Day rally, said he keeps attending the rallies because he has "always been taught that an American doesn't give up."

Madrigal, who came from Mexico with his parents when he was 9, is applying for scholarships and doing fundraisers in an attempt to raise $59,000 to go to Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

"I'm not asking for a handout, free housing or health care. I just want a chance," he said.

Since the last major immigration reform in 1986, which extended amnesty to millions here illegally, activism has ebbed and flowed.

Proposition 187, passed by California voters in 1994, prohibited illegal immigrants from using social services, including health care and education. The law was eventually thrown out, but it angered many Latinos and helped make California a solidly Democratic state.

In 2005, a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have criminalized anyone who helped illegal immigrants also had a galvanizing effect. For several months in 2006, hundreds of thousands rallied across the country. The U.S. Senate responded, passing a reform bill that would have given a path to citizenship for millions here illegally.

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