The Immigrant Rights Marches of 2006 and the Prospects for a New Civil Rights Movement
Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 42, 2007
90 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2006
In the spring of 2006, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens and immigrants peacefully marched in the streets of cities across the country. Such mass demonstrations advocating for the rights of immigrants are unprecedented in American history. Energy, enthusiasm, and a deep sense of urgency filled the air. The immigrant rights movement initially spread like wildfire. A second wave followed the initial protests. By the summer of 2006, however, there were signs that the immigrant rights movement had lost steam. A series of marches on and around Labor Day attracted far fewer people than those just a few months before. After much skirmishing during the summer, Congress failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
This Article focuses on the efficacy of a new, multiracial civil rights movement seeking social justice. We discern decidedly mixed signals about the possibility of such a movement. Despite some promising signs, there are many formidable hurdles before the emergence of a new, multiracial civil rights movement. Among the first hurdles is defining the scope of any movement. Who will participate if there is to be a new civil rights movement? Will it be a Latina/o civil rights movement or a broader one including African Americans? Will the movement address more than immigrant rights? And just who will be its leaders?
Part I of this Article outlines the context and meaning of the 2006 immigration marches and identifies the conspicuous absence of African Americans from the marches. The absence is consistent with the fact that immigration historically has been an issue dividing African Americans, Latina/os, and Asian Americans. Part II analyzes some central features of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the last relatively successful and broad-based mass social movement in America. Partly in response to broad-based political activism, the courts and political branches of government assisted in bringing forth social transformation. Part III considers the potential for a new civil rights movement. We opine that much work will need to be done before a multiracial movement for social change can be created. Specifically, African American-Latina/o conflict will need to be addressed before meaningful social change can be secured. Ultimately, it is unclear whether the immigrant marches will morph into anything more.
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