Fueled by anger over Arizona’s harsh new immigration law, more than 200,000 people gathered in 70 cities across the country on May 1st to put pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to act on their long-overdue promise of an immigration overhaul. While people were gearing up to rally for reform across the country, law makers in Arizona decided to re-write one of the more controversial provisions of SB1070 to counteract accusations of racial profiling. While the amendment HB2162 clearly demarcates that police cannot use race and ethnicity to determine whom to question about their immigration status, opponents of the law called the repeal an insufficient “cosmetic” change that does not address the way it offends the civil liberties of the people of Arizona.
Turnout for May Day rallies outdid all expectations with numbers in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Dallas, New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and other cities, numbering in the tens of thousands. In Los Angeles, a 100,000 workers, students, activists and families marched through downtown L.A. to City Hall, waving American flags and signs protesting the Arizona law, the largest turnout for a May Day rally since 2006. Marchers included people like Yobani Velasquez, a 32-year-old Guatemala native and U.S. legal resident, who was motivated to head the rally in Los Angeles out of his distaste for SB1070 which he called “racist” and “unfair.”
In Washington D.C., 35 people were arrested at the rally for picketing on the sidewalk of the White House in an act of civil disobedience. Amongst those arrested were the leaders of the national immigration movement including Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Ali Noorani, Chair of Reform Immigration for America, Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, and Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland. The leaders were wearing T-shirts that said “arrest me, not my friends,” and were taken away peacefully after refusing to leave the gate of the White House, with signs that protested the government’s inaction and lack of support for the immigrant community. Speaking at a rally in Lafayette square before the act of civil disobedience, Rep. Gutierrez hearkened back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s saying,
There are moments in which you say, ‘We will escalate this struggle…Today they will put handcuffs on us. But one day we will be free at last in the country we love.’
These arrests were representative of the strength and determination of tens of thousands of people, from labor, civil rights, immigrant rights groups as well as thousands of families that turned out to demonstrate for just and humane reform.
One of the highlights of the D.C. chapter of the May 1st rally were the courageous Trail of Dreams walkers who arrived in the nation’s capital last week after walking 1500 miles over four months, through some of the most conservative states in the country. The four young students, Gaby, Juan, Felipe and Carlos began their journey in Miami, Florida on January 1st, 2010, determined to draw attention to the plight of all the young, undocumented immigrants in this country who, despite having lived here for most of their lives, are unable to live out their dreams because of a broken immigration system. During their journey, they made numerous stops in towns along the way, telling their personal stories and raising awareness about the need for the DREAM Act, legislation that would enable young people who were brought to America, to lawfully live in the U.S. They finally reached D.C. last Wednesday, armed with 30,000 signatures on a petition to tell President Obama to help others like them. Despite their arduous journey, and having their laptops and phones that had been their main contact with the world stolen on arrival in Washington D.C., they joined in the May 1st rallies, unshaken in their determination.
As we wait for what unfolds with the immigration proposal introduced last week, we hope that this is the year for just and humane immigration reform.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ainsworth.