Florida Plans Immigration Protests

Immigration activists planned marches, prayer and demonstrations across South Florida in honor of Monday's National Day of Action.

But many expected fewer immigrants to attend than the more than 75,000 who attended the April 11 rally in Fort Myers. That number surprised even organizers. Activists said a few immigrants lost their jobs after that march, and many were concerned about recent Homeland Security immigration raids, in which hundreds of immigrants were rounded up.

In West Palm Beach, organizers decided to lead a march Sunday instead of Monday to ensure immigrants working in the booming construction and resort industry would not have to miss work.

"We have received a number of people who were being threatened by their employers that they would be fired if they didn't come, so we changed it," said Carlos Cisneros, of the Guatemalan Maya Quetzal Organization, which has helped sponsor the event.

"We're not officially coordinating a work stoppage. We are leaving it up to every individual. We don't want people to lose a job, but we want to encourage people to stand up for their rights," said Maria Rodriguez, head of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Activists in Fort Lauderdale were organizing a day of prayer followed by a rally. In Sarasota, demonstrators planned to join arms across the Ringling Bridge, and in Miami activists planned to gather at the Orange Bowl. Other groups planned events in Belle Glade, Fort Pierce and Tampa.

Yolanda Delmontes, 36, who came to the United States illegally eight years ago was among those who planned to march Monday in Homestead.

"We are afraid, but we have to come out and make our voice heard," said the Mexican native.

Ray Gilmer, spokesman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said the timing of the protests was tough for growers in the area, as the Valencia juice oranges are in full harvest. A recent heat-wave has also meant vegetables are ripening more quickly and can't sit on the vine.

But Gilmer added that if the walkout helps call attention to the need for an improved guest worker program, "one day of lost production is worth the political momentum that might come from it."

A. Duda & Sons Inc. and Taylor & Fulton Farms both agreed to give workers the day off Monday.

Fear instilled by recent immigration raids has actually made employers more sympathetic toward workers, said Homestead activist Jonathan Fried. He said several plant nurseries in the area were planning to remain closed Monday.

"People are determined to do something about the immigration laws. They are fighting for their rights as human beings," he said.

While, a growing number of immigration activists are worried that the May 1 marches could spark more backlash, they believe in the end the positive effect is worth it.

Spanish-language radio stations warned participants not to take alcohol to the march.

"Some people instinctively have a negative reaction to things of that sort," said political analyst and immigration reform advocate, Ana Navarro.

But she added, "Marches and protests have been effective in the past, and I'm sure opinions of them were divided then too. The picture of half a million people marching is a powerful image."