Immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- have been urged to stay home from work and school today and instead attend one of the many rallies going on across the country in support of immigration reform. But the action does not have the support of all the groups that work for the rights of immigrants, as some of them fear that taking to the streets will do more harm than good to the cause.
Organizers say the goal of today's "Day Without Immigrants" is to show the role immigrants play in the nation's economy -- both in keeping it going by providing inexpensive labor and in contributing to it with the money they spend in this country. The Pew Hispanic Center study estimates there are about 12 million "unauthorized migrants" working in the United States, which is almost five percent of the civilian labor force.
Caesar Sanchez, a corporate meeting planner for a computer company in Austin, Texas, stayed home from work today to attend church and a pro-immigration rally at the state capitol. Sanchez has grandparents who fled Mexico during the Mexican Revolution.
"We are a nation of immigrants," he said. "There is no reason to criminalize someone for having dreams. It's outrageous to penalize immigrants who come here for the things their grandparents came here for -- a better life."
But not everyone could afford to take the day off to support the boycott. Luis Lara, a Mexican immigrant worker said he went to work at a New York delicatessen because he needs "to pay the rent and the bills."
That economic reality, along with concern over the risk of alienating the business community, is why many immigrant advocacy groups did not support the boycott.
"The business community has been firmly on our side since day one," said Manuel Hidalgo, the executive director of the National Capital Immigration Coalition, based in Washington, D.C. Of the 47 immigrants' rights organizations in the coalition, only one endorsed the boycott.
"With mainstream America, we did feel the risk of a backlash," Hidalgo said.
Hidalgo said that because he and his coalition have seen the recent polls that show the majority of Americans support immigration reform, which Congress is tackling, he'd rather give Congress a chance.
"Congress has a right to respond, without doing a boycott," he said.
Hidalgo also said he questions the political agenda of some of the boycott's supporters. The idea was started in Los Angeles by a group called Answer, an acronym for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. Hidalgo calls the group a Johnny-come-lately to the immigration battle. Answer is better known for its opposition to the Bush administration's policies, including the war in Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan, but recently joined the immigration movement in mobilizing the mass demonstrations staged across the country last month.
The demonstrations could hurt the cause of immigration reform if they are seen as too confrontational by members of Congress and even President Bush, Hidalgo said.
"Our group is focused on immigration rights, and we have plenty of wonderful allies in the Republican party, including President Bush. To alienate him is ludicrous," he said.