Immigrant rights was an especially important concern for marchers and speakers at this year’s May Day rally. The annual march for labor and immigrant rights, a Seattle tradition, started at St. Mary’s Church in the Central District on a warm, clear and cloudless day, and continued through the Capitol Hill neighborhood before ending at the US District Courthouse downtown.
Immigration was especially pressing this year for a few reasons. Spring 2016 marks the ten year anniversary of the 2006 Mega Marches in support of immigrant rights, which drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands all across the country in opposition to a sweeping immigration bill. Also this March, local community leader and cartel-fighter Nestora Salgado was freed after being detained by the Mexican government for two years. And of course, there’s the rise of Donald Trump, whose political success has been directly linked to his virulently anti-immigration rhetoric.
Jorge Chang, who carried a sign saying “God loves immigrants,” said he came to the march in support of families separated as a result of immigration policies. Working as a nurse, Chang said he had met many families in this situation, with one or more parents deported and separated from their children.
“It’s important to keep families together — especially in our culture, family is important,” he said. “If you get your kids taken away or if you’re being harassed for being an immigrant or being undocumented, I feel like that’s wrong.” Chang said he was also marching in solidarity with others at the march, and against anti-immigrant sentiments.
“There is this campaign about immigrants that we’re criminals and all these things, but we just come here to work, we just come here to find a better life,” he said. “I came here to study, I came here to find a good job.”
In spring 2006, thousands of people in over 100 cities around the country protested a piece of legislation that would have criminalized undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them. The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (HR 4437) also mandated building hundreds of miles of additional fences along the U.S. – Mexico border, and would have instated other controversial measures. The bill ultimately failed to pass the Senate, partly due to these protests, which were often massive. On one day in Los Angeles, around 500,000 protesters turned out in the streets.
Helen Gilbert, carrying a sign in support of political prisoners here and abroad, said much work still needs to be done when it comes to immigration reform.
“[HR 4437] was defeated but I don’t see that much has changed, and in fact the Republican party is making immigrant-bashing very mainstream,” she said. “I don’t see the Democrats coming to their aid either. So I think real immigration justice is something that neither party is going to touch.”
This sentiment was shared by labor and immigrant justice group El Comité, which organizes the annual May Day marches. “In the 10 years since the marches, conditions remain variable for many immigrants throughout the country,” El Comité wrote on their website. “The electoral process and election of democrats to the House of Representatives, Senate, and White House didn’t deliver on the promise for a just immigration reform.”
Marcher Thuvan Nguyen, an immigrant from Vietnam who is now a US citizen, said she is concerned about the rights of immigrants in the United States today.
“I want to make sure that my rights and everybody’s rights are respected,” she said. “And if this country is written on the Constitution, everybody is equal — we never live up to it.”
Nguyen spoke against anti-immigrant sentiment, which she sees as hypocritical.
“I know that a lot of people are enjoying their free labor, cheap labor, and now they realize, ‘Ooh, there are too many.’”
As the marchers threaded their way through Capitol Hill, and passed the fenced-off East Precinct police station, they chanted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Some carried signs calling for justice for Che Taylor, who was fatally shot by Seattle police on February 21 this year.
The march ended when the crowd reached the US District Courthouse downtown. Participants sat on the courthouse steps awaiting speakers from a program organized by El Comité.
Before speakers took the stage, Mariela Munguia spoke about the meaning of her sign, which read “Protect Queer Immigrants.”
Many immigrants who are detained are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Munguia explained, and often their needs — such as hormone therapy for transgender immigrants — are ignored.
“They’re not treated like human beings, they’re treated as illegal aliens, which isn’t a thing,” she said.
“And also the way I see it, a lot of the time queerness is already stigmatised among our community, and especially within the Latino community,” she added. “What I mean by protecting them is make sure that we provide them with protection from our community too, as well as with other communities.”
The assembled marchers heard from a diverse lineup of speakers. Many of them spoke about the need to support immigrant rights in the face of Trump’s anti immigrant rhetoric.
“No to the walls, no to the deportations,” said long time activist Juan Jose Bocanegra, through a translator. “Let’s stop the fascist, racist Trump.”
Aneelah Afzali, an attorney and advocate for interfaith dialogue, took the stage to speak about Islamophobia.
“As an American Muslim, my religion requires me to be an advocate for peace, justice and dignity for all,” she began. “I recognize that our struggles are connected and stand in solidarity with each and every one of you here.”
“We must build bridges, not walls, and obtain unconditional documentation for all,” she added.
Zachary Pullin, a member of the Chippewa and Cree tribes and director of communications for the Seattle Pride Foundation, spoke in support of the Native American and LGBTQIA+ communities, and introduced Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant to the stage.
Sawant focused her speech on countering Trump’s message. Sawant told marchers that they should work together to shut down Trump’s planned visit to Washington state.
“We are seeing Trump’s ascendency with his message of bigotry, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant rhetoric,” she said. “We must match his racism with rallies and protest.”
Courtesy of Chetanya Robinson