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May Day marches for immigrant rights

By Nicole Colson | May 11, 2007 | Page 8

AS HUNDREDS of thousands took to the streets to march for immigrant rights on May Day this year, the media reacted predictably.

"Immigration protests nationwide pale compared to last year," read the headline over the Associated Press report. The New York Times headline read, "Immigrant rights rallies smaller than last year"--and was accompanied by a picture of a lone protester on an empty street in Los Angeles. In fact, close to 75,000 people protested in two different marches in LA.

Though the demonstrations were, on the whole, smaller than last year, the mainstream coverage ignored their significance--and the fact that these were the second-largest May 1 protests in modern U.S. history.

In Chicago, as many as 250,000 turned out for a rally and march that was so much larger than originally anticipated that police changed the end point of the march at the last minute to handle the much larger crowds.

The big turnout was due in part due to outrage among the city's Latino community over an April 24 raid by heavily armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in military gear in the city's Little Village neighborhood, in which some 250 people were initially detained.

Many people believe the raid was designed to intimidate people from turning out for the May Day march. But rather than be silenced, activists responded immediately with protests against the raids--and used the momentum to build for the May Day march, which featured contingents of high school and college students, church groups, immigrant rights organizations and more.

In Los Angeles, two separate marches drew out tens of thousands. The first, held at City Hall, attracted 50,000 people against the raids and for legalization for all. The second drew 15,000 for a march down Wilshire Boulevard to MacArthur Park, a predominantly Central American working-class immigrant community. Despite a peaceful march, riot police attacked the crowd at the end, firing more than 200 rubber bullets, as well as tear gas, into an area containing families with children and the elderly.

In the Bay Area, demonstrations in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose drew about 10,000 each. In San Francisco, the protest featured a sizable labor contingent as well as students who had walked out of class. In Santa Rosa, Calif., another 10,000 mobilized, including many undocumented workers--exceeding last year's turnout by 2,000.

In Seattle, as many as 20,000 took part in a march that stretched at one point for 10 city blocks. Chants in English and Spanish called for "Ahora, ahora amnestia" (Amnesty now, now) and to "Deporten la migra" (deport the immigration police).

In New York City, 15,000 people rallied, carrying signs that read "Equal rights for all workers: End the raids and deportations" and "Legalization for all immigrants now!" A sizeable number of protesters came from the city's Asian community, and the demonstration included a spirited feeder march from Chinatown.

Lupe, a restaurant worker from Ecuador with two young children said that she came to the demonstration "to support the struggle--the struggle for amnesty and social justice."

Some 15,000 turned out in Phoenix, Ariz., some with signs reading "Stop the roundups." In Austin, Texas, at least 5,000 turned out--approaching the size of last year's march--despite pouring rain. The vast majority of the marchers were immigrant workers and their families.

In Washington, D.C., a rally held in Malcolm X Park drew 1,000 to demand a stop to raids and deportations, full legalization for all, and that D.C. be made a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.

San Diego saw a turnout of 1,000, with many protesters carrying handmade signs calling for full legal rights for immigrants and an end to ICE raids. Among the marchers was a contingent of parents and students from King Chavez Elementary School. Parents from the school said that they organized for the march in part as a response to police harassment at the school--where immigrant parents have been arrested as they drop off their small children.

In Watsonville, Calif., as many as 2,000 marched, including several hundred high school students who walked out of classes to attend.

College students organized on campuses across the country to lend their voices to the immigrant rights movement. In Santa Cruz, Calif., 350 students walked out of class at the University of California-Santa Cruz for a rally on campus, followed by a march downtown, where they joined a demonstration of 200, comprised mainly of Latino families.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 150 people rallied for legalization and workers' rights, while at Cornell University, a group of approximately 70 student protesters met up with others for a rally of 250 in downtown Ithaca, N.Y. Chants of "What do we want? Amnesty! When do we want it? Now!" could be heard for blocks.

Tim Burt, Victor Fernandez, Rick Greenblatt, Owen Goodwin, Darrin Hoop, Troy Daniel Pasulka, Adam Turl, Corrie Westing and Steven Wyatt contributed to this report.

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