Click photo to enlarge
Protesters for immigration reform march near the Georgia Capitol Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in Atlanta. More than 1,000 people rallied at the Georgia Capitol and marched through downtown Atlanta to express support for comprehensive immigration reform and to call for an end to deportations.

Seven years ago, on Mountain View's suburban streets, Jose Ivan Arreola was a high school senior politically awakened by joining a mass immigrant protest movement that shook the country.

That spring, tens of thousands of immigrant families pushing strollers and walking hand-in-hand took to the streets from San Jose and Oakland to Des Moines and Salt Lake City, protesting a bill in Congress that would have made many of them felons.

"It was beautiful," Arreola said, "to see people I knew, my uncles, my cousins, my friends from school, all coming out, all walking in solidarity, and showing the city we were here, part of the community, part of society."

Such crowds are not expected this week, but events in San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland and a "National Rally for Citizenship" outside the U.S. Capitol are outward signs of Immigrant Spring 2.0 -- a savvier, broader, more influential movement democratized by years of fostering public and political support and embracing technological outreach tools.

Twitter was still preparing its public launch and Facebook was mostly a college student hangout, not a global online universe, when young activists in 2006 used their cell phones and MySpace to mobilize support.

Now, thousands of self-described Dreamers, brought to the United States illegally when they were children, are sharing their stories and perspectives on social media, negotiating with lawmakers and directing their own organizations. Arreola, whose Mexican family brought him across the border illegally as a 4-year-old, is one of them.


Advertisement

Now 25, Arreola is helping organize the new round of Bay Area marches on Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of the historic April 10, 2006 nationwide walkout of immigrant workers and their families that presaged a bigger boycott that May.

"What's different is that in 2006 we were responding to the anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation," Arreola said. "Today, it's really proactive. It's pushing for comprehensive immigration reform."

That immigrants are taking up the debate on their own futures "is really a profound shift, where people who are really directly impacted are leading the way," said Betty Hung, policy director of the Asian Pacific American Policy Center in Los Angeles. "One of the lessons they've taught us is the use of social media."

One group, The Dream is Now, this week launched a Thunderclap -- a kind of sonic boom of online messaging -- to advocate a reform provision granting citizenship to immigrant youths. Rapper MC Hammer and filmmaker Jon Chu were among those who took part in the virtual flashmob, and the campaign is backed by Silicon Valley philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs.

Online networks have also eased the path to welcoming into the pro-immigration reform fold more Asian Americans, gays and lesbians, Republicans and Silicon Valley tech titans whose causes have merged into one overlapping agenda. Buoyed by their online followers and networks, individual activists on both sides also have more effective bullhorns than they did in 2006, when a handful of talk radio hosts had outsize influence in defining the tone of the immigration debate.

First, it was Spanish-language disc jockeys helping marshal 25,000 people to march through San Jose in April 2006, another 10,000 in Oakland and thousands more that season in other cities, from Brentwood to Hayward, that had little history of mass protest.

At the same time, conservative radio and TV personalities, such as Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs, empowered a nationwide counter-movement that flooded lawmakers with emails, calls and outrage against the immigrants' demands for legalization and citizenship.

At the same time, the counter-movement whose "no amnesty" for illegal immigrants campaign defeated immigration bills in 2006 and 2007 also hopes to take its cause to the new media landscape.

"Obviously technology has added new tools that both sides are using," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks to reduce immigration. "These things are there. Everybody's using them. The world changes very quickly."