Friday paycheck envelopes at Pilgrim’s Pride, an Athens chicken processing plant, contained a letter from management urging Hispanic employees to remain on the job Monday during the national immigration boycott.

The boycott comes in the wake of protests and marches spurred by legislative proposals to crack down on illegal immigration. It is estimated that there are between 11 million and 12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the United States.

One local Pilgrim’s Pride worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told the News Courier that it was widely rumored that Athens Hispanic employees would join in a boycott with Wayne Farms employees in Decatur on Monday. Neither Pilgrim’s Pride plant manager Doug Lindamood nor Wayne Farms Human Resource Manager Paul Nosal could be contacted Friday.

According to the Associated Press, backers of the protest are calling for immigrants to stay off the job and home from school to dramatize the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy. The walkout would leave construction sites and restaurants undermanned, crops untended and hotel rooms uncleaned. They also hope empty classrooms will demonstrate that immigration reform is a major issue for future voters.

Leaders also encourage that immigrants do not spend money at American-owned companies to emphasize their economic clout.

Friday’s Pilgrim’s Pride letter, printed in both Spanish and English, stressed the importance of the company and political leaders working together to “find a solution to the problem.” The letter stated, in part: “Please remember that there are other ways to make your voices heard than walking off the job and missing a day’s pay. One way is to contact your local congressional representative. “

The letter went on to remind workers that, “Our customers depend on us to deliver quality products and service, and we need to work together to do this.”

Billed as “The Day Without Immigrants,” Monday’s boycott has been brewing since December when the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally. Billed as a border protection, anti-terrorism and illegal immigration control act, the House bill would also impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of the people they help, and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border.

Now, the Senate is trying to write a bill that would allow the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. for five years or longer to apply for citizenship. Those in the U.S. for more than two years but less than five would be required to go to a border point of entry, but they could return quickly as legal temporary guest workers.

President Bush has advocated a guest worker program, but he’s stopped short of endorsing the Senate plan.

A boycott is also planned for Mexico where with a rallying cry of “Nothing gringo,” activists called for boycotting all U.S. businesses south of the border on May 1 to coincide with the “Great American Boycott.”

Leaders of the Service Employees International Union, which has gotten thousands of immigrants to rallies and helped with crowd control, said they cannot endorse a boycott because of collective bargaining agreements. SEIU spokesman Jaime Contreras was quoted by the Associated press as asking boycott leaders , “You are using the last weapon on your arsenal now?” He said that if the Senate approves more punitive legislation the immigrant groups would have nothing to follow up with.

Others emphasized that immigrants boycotting their employers is counterproductive because they hurt their strongest allies in seeing them made legal.

Javier Rodriguez, spokesperson for the Great American Boycott of 2006, speaking on the April 4 broadcast of Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” blamed Republicans for immigrants having to take this action. The House bill was sponsored by The bill was sponsored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Peter King, R-N.Y.

“It’s the right-wing Republicans, the ones that are pushing in that direction,” said Rodriguez. “The American public is pushing in the opposite direction. In the humane, integral, comprehensive immigration reform that will lead to legalization, that will lead to citizenship.”

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