While many May Day activities traditionally have focused on labor wage and hour issues, many rallies and marches on Thursday are all about immigration, and mounting frustration over the record deportation rate.
Advocates for more lenient immigration policies, undocumented immigrants and their relatives staged marches and rallies in cities across the country, as well in the nation’s capital, including near the White House.
Many said they were protesting the failure of Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would give undocumented immigrants a chance to legalize their status, and they were protesting what they say has been President Obama’s overzealous enforcement approach.
“President Obama has said that he is just deporting criminals so I want to know, why is he deporting me and other mothers like me?” said Catia Paz Alvarez, who attended a rally in Washington D.C. that was organized by CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy group.
A CASA statement about the May Day rally said that Alvarez, who is undocumented, came at the age of 17 and had led an exemplary life – working, paying taxes, and raising a family. But she is in deportation proceedings and recently got a denial of her application to have her removal from the United States suspended, the statement said.
CASA and many protesters on Thursday said that the White House vow to shift its deportation aproach to zero in on immigrants who have criminal backgrounds or who are national security threats has not become reality.
Many labor unions entwined their core mission with that of demanding immigration reform, a growing part of their lobbying in the recent decade.
“As thousands across the nation raise their voices today in commemoration of the International Day of Workers, our commitment to all workers remains steadfast,” said Rocio Saenz, SEIU Executive Vice President.
“From those working behind the counter of a fast food restaurant to our immigrant brothers and sisters working in the shadows, we proudly stand with them. May Day marks our enduring promise to our immigrant communities and workers everywhere to get immigration reform done this year.”
“We are undeterred by the empty rhetoric and inexcusable delay in the House to vote on the most important issue of our time,” Saenz said. “When our country and our families stand to gain, the Republican congressional leadership has stood in wait.”
A bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in the Senate last June.
That bill included, among other things, tightened border security, expanded foreign worker visas, and a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria.
But the effort fell apart in the House, where Republicans have a majority and solid conservative faction has promised not to pass any measure that includes a path to legal status for those who have broken U.S. immigration laws.
In Los Angeles, where activists were marching in the downtown area, the focus was on Obama and what many say is his ability to stem the deportations that have reached a record 2 million during his tenure.
"The president needs to be pressured to use the authority that he has to keep families together," said the Rev. David Farley, pastor at Echo Park United Methodist Church and organizer of the protest, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Others, however, say the president has brought some relief to undocumented immigrants, while trying to be careful not to worsen the chances that Republicans in Congress will work with Democrats to overhaul immigration laws.
These defenders of Obama mention the 2012 presidential order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which gave undocumented immigrants brought as minors a two-year suspension from deportation, as well as a work permit.
"At a time when the opposing party has been relentlessly attacking the administration in the hope of gaining control of Congress, the friendly fire from those who have every reason to be supportive is not just unfair and mystifying, it is damaging," said Stephen Legomsky, a professor of immigration law who served in the Obama administration as chief counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the Times.
The National Council of La Raza, for its part, said it’s not letting the House of Representatives off the hook. A statement by NCLR noted that although the House is scheduled to be in session for three weeks in May, a memo of agenda items includes no mention of immigration.
NCLR’s president, Janet Murguia, said it was the fault of both political parties that immigration reform efforts have come to a halt.
“Continuing to ignore the problems within our immigration system is counterproductive to improving this country’s economic and social well-being,” Murguía said. “We have an opportunity to create thousands of new jobs in every congressional district and add billions of dollars in additional income for all Americans over the next decade. But that requires passing immigration reform.”