Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/fri/31212nCA-Hispanicboycott.html

California Hispanic groups organizing boycott today
December 12, 2003
By Deborah Kong

SAN FRANCISCO - Advocates are asking Hispanics throughout California to flex their economic muscle today by refusing to go to work, school or stores.

The planned statewide boycott, organized by two Southern California advocacy groups, is a response to last week's repeal of a law that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses.

"Latino and immigrant communities don't have to roll over," said Edward Headington, a spokesman for the Mexican American Political Association, one of the organizers of the boycott. "It's saying that there is strength in numbers."

At 11.9 million, Hispanics make up about a third of the state's population. California, home to the nation's largest Hispanic community, has been the scene of a series of divisive battles over immigration.

Headington said he did not know how many would participate in today's boycotts, but acknowledged its effects would be felt individually, business by business.

"It's not like shutting down the 101" freeway, he said.

Organizers have distributed at least 350,000 fliers during the past month urging people to join the boycott, Headington said. Spanish-language television stations have aired several stories on it.

Victor Jimenez, the manager of a Redwood City construction equipment rental company, plans to stay home from work today, and he has asked the company's 150 other employees to join him.

"I told them not to buy anything, not to go to the movies, not to put gas, not to deposit money in the bank," said Jimenez, who is Mexican-American.

"The state of California is so powerful, it's strong, but the Hispanic community, it's supporting that because we're buying, we're working."

But some have expressed reservations about the boycott.

Xavier Reyes, communications and education director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said his group supports the idea of the boycott but is worried about workers.

"Our concern is the folks that are going to leave their jobs and may not be able to come back to their jobs. There's basically no safety net for those people," Reyes said.

"If we had a population that was totally homogeneous, there might be some significant showing," Reyes said. But "we're not one homogeneous group that's marching in the same direction every time."

Still, the boycott may "underscore the important contributions of Latino immigrants to the well-being of the state," said Hector Villagra, regional counsel of the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a national advocacy group that is among others that have pledged their support.

"There's probably no better way to do that, to show that significance, than through their absence that day," Villagra said.

The boycott, scheduled for the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, also will remind legislators that the driver's license issue has not been forgotten, Headington said.

It's a matter of "respect and dignity for people who are hardworking and responsible and who need a license to drive to work, to drive their kids to school and to go shopping," he said.

The driver's license law was passed by the Legislature in September and signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis, fueling criticism he was pandering to Hispanic voters.

Fulfilling a major campaign promise, Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger repealed the law last week. He has said he wants a "whole new package" that includes more safeguards and background checks on applicants. But many Republicans vowed they will oppose any bill that allows residents living illegally in California to get driver's licenses.

Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, the previous bill's author, said he supports today's boycotts.

The economic strike also is intended to denounce a bill being considered by Congress that would allow state and local law enforcement officers to arrest suspected illegal immigrants, Headington said. It's also in response to an effort to resurrect a state constitutional amendment similar to Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative that sought to deny public education, health care and social services to illegal immigrants.

Proposition 187 was challenged in court and never took effect, but its backers are trying to place an initiative to deny illegal immigrants public benefits and prevent them from getting driver's licenses on the November ballot.