LOS ANGELES (AP) — Demonstrators demanded an overhaul of immigration laws Wednesday in an annual, nationwide ritual that carried a special sense of urgency as Congress considers sweeping legislation that would bring many of the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally out of the shadows.
In New York, paper rats on sticks bobbed along Sixth Avenue as about 200 protesters set off from Bryant Park, chanting: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” The rats were intended to symbolize abused migrant workers.
May Day rallies were planned in dozens of other cities from Tampa, Fla., to Bozeman, Mont. At a rally in Salem, Ore., Gov. John Kitzhaber planned to sign legislation to authorize drivers’ licenses for people living in the state without documentation.
“The invisible become visible on May 1,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which organized what was expected to be the nation’s largest rally.
The crowds were not expected to approach the massive demonstrations of 2006 and 2007, during the last serious attempt to introduce major changes to the U.S. immigration system. Despite the large turnouts, many advocates of looser immigration laws felt they were outmaneuvered by opponents who flooded congressional offices with phone calls and faxes at the behest of conservative talk-radio hosts.
Now, immigrant advocacy groups are focusing heavily on calling and writing members of Congress, using social media and other technology to target specific lawmakers. Reform Immigration for America, a network of groups, claims more than 1.2 million subscribers, including recipients of text messages and Facebook followers.
A phone blitz targeting Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch produced 100 calls a day to the Utah lawmaker’s office last week, said Jeff Parcher, communications director for the Center for Community Change, which works on technology-driven advocacy for the network of groups. After Hatch was quoted Sunday in The Salt Lake Tribune saying immigration reform couldn’t wait, a message went out to call his office with thanks.
Gabriel Villalobos, a Spanish-language talk radio host in Phoenix, said many of his callers believe it is the wrong time for marches, fearful that that any unrest could sour public opinion on immigration reform. Those callers advocate instead for a low-key approach of calling members of Congress.
“The mood is much calmer,” said Villalobos, who thinks the marches are still an important show of political force.
Salas, whose group is known as CHIRLA, dates the May Day rallies to a labor dispute with a restaurant in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood that drew several hundred demonstrators in 2000. Crowds grew each year until the House of Representatives passed a tough bill against illegal immigration, sparking a wave of enormous, angry protests from coast to coast in 2006.
The rallies, which coincide with Labor Day in many countries outside the U.S., often have big showings from labor leaders and elected officials.
Demonstrators marched in countries around the world, with fury in Europe over austerity measures and rage in Asia over relentlessly low pay, the rising cost of living and hideous working conditions that have left hundreds dead in recent months alone.
The New York crowd was a varied bunch of labor groups, immigrant activists and demonstrators unaffiliated with any specific cause. Among them was 26-year-old Becky Wartell, who was carrying a tall puppet of the Statue of Liberty.
“Every May Day, more groups that have historically considered themselves separate from one another come together,” she said.
As in recent years, May 1, 2013 brings demonstrations by activists calling for immigration reform around the United States.
This year the protests will focus on making it easier for immigrants to become citizens, and on ending deportation for people who are already partially eligible.
“For too long, immigrant workers have been forced into the shadows,” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski in a media release. “The more than 2 million aspiring Americans in California deserve comprehensive immigration reform that provides a clear and expedient roadmap to citizenship.”
Here are some California events organized by the federation ….:
- Anaheim 11am: March from Anaheim City Hall (2005 So. Anaheim Blvd.) to LaPalma Park 12:30pm: Rally at 1000 N. Harbor Blvd.
- Fresno 4pm-7pm: March & Rights Fair at Fresno Co. Superior Court (1100 Van Ness Ave.)
- Los Angeles Noon: March from Olympic & Broadway to Placita Olvera Church (535 N. Main St.)
- Oakland 3pm: March from Fruitvale Bart Plaza to Josie del la Cruz Park
- Sacramento 5:30pm: Rally at the South Steps of State Capitol
- Salinas Noon: Human billboarding at Teamsters local 890 (931 E. Market St.)
- San Diego 2pm: Rally at Civic Center (202 C St.) 3:30pm: March from Civic Center
- San Francisco 3pm: March beginning at 24th & Mission
- San Jose 3pm: Rally at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (2020 E. San Antonio St) 4pm: March to City Hall
- Santa Cruz 5:30pm: Human billboarding at Santa Cruz Town Clock (Mission St and Pacific Ave.) 7pm: “Reel Work” May Day film festival at Del Mar Theatre (1124 Pacific Ave.)
- Santa Maria 5:30pm: March from Santa Maria High School (901 S. Broadway) 6pm: Rally at Broadway and Main
- Santa Rosa 4:30pm: March from 665 Sebastopol Rd. (near Dutton Ave.) to Julliard Park
- Stockton 5:30pm-7pm: Community rally & press conference at DeCarli Plaza (Channel & No. El Dorado St.)
- Watsonville 6:30pm: Human billboarding on Main St. (next to the Plaza)
In addition, some activists plan to begin an 11-day fast. One of these groups will meet at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church in Mountain View.