The 2011 May Day March for Immigration Reform drew more than 500 enthusiastic participants. It evolved into an event that was qualitatively different from recent years. The theme of this year’s march can be captured in one popular chant: “¡Obama escucha, el pueblo esta de lucha!” The crowd demanded: “Obama listen: The people are in the fight!” It was an expression of frustration and an admonition regarding the campaign promises that Democrats have made and the failings of the Obama administration.
The march and rally had a festive tone, punctuated with sharp statements and cultural presentations by Native American, Mexicano, Irish and other representatives of Fresno’s ethnic mix. They all expressed solidarity with the struggle of immigrant families against the “men with guns.”
Another recurring theme was the failure of any movement toward true immigration reform. In fact, it would appear the movement for immigrants’ rights has lost ground, with more than 400,000 deportations last year—10% more than the Bush administration in its last year.
Many of these deportations were the direct result of the Secure Communities program, which allows state and local police to check the fingerprints of an individual they might book into jail against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) databases.
One study by the Cardozo School of Law found that 79% of those deported by Secure Communities were either non-criminals or traffic and other low-level offenders. Instead of focusing resources on dangerous criminals, Secure Communities was deporting honest, working people, many with families.
The Obama administration has also increased border security and the employment of the E-Verify system for flagging
“no-match” Social Security numbers.
In addition to Secure Communities, another focus of the May Day mobilization was the DREAM Act, both at the state and federal levels. The state initiative proposed by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D‒San Francisco) would provide financial assistance for undocumented and legal resident aliens who seek higher education.
The federal proposal would provide true legal status for undocumented youths based on years of residency, educational enrollment and other circumstances of their presence in the United States. Recently, 22 Democratic senators sent a letter asking the president to use his executive power to stop deportations of DREAM Act students. Two former INS General Counsels support this effort, stating that the president has the authority to grant administrative relief.
The May Day March was led by a group of elementary school-aged children who proudly displayed a banner that stated, “Don’t Deport My Family.” It was accented by their small handprints. A mass of banners and signs reaffirmed, “Stop the Raids,” “California DREAM Act Now!” and “Immigrants are hardworking people!”
Despite rumors of an effort by the Tea Party to mount a counterdemonstration, there were neither signs nor altercations of any nature. The May Day March was loud, energetic and peaceful. The marchers were determined to reach out to the reported 72% of the American public who support comprehensive immigration reform.
Event speakers evoked the legacy of the Native Americans who lost their struggle against American aggression but retained their culture and dignity. The participation of a large number of children added a sense of urgency and hope in the future.
One event speaker emphasized that in the coming years Latinos will be the majority of California residents. Today’s undocumented and other immigrants must prepare themselves for the day when they come into their political strength and have the power to determine their future.
The May Day Committee for Immigration Reform continues to work for justice for immigrants through the following immediate objectives:
- Cessation of the implementation of Secure Communities
- Suspension of deportations of all DREAM Act‒eligible youth
- Passage of the DREAM Act at the state and federal levels
- Comprehensive immigration reform that alleviates the unjust conditions under which close to 12 million undocumented persons continue to live in the United States
For more information, contact the committee at 559-776-6642 or 559-367-1017.