Posted on May 3, 2010

L.A.’s May Day Immigration Rally Is Nation’s Largest

Teresa Watanabe and Patrick McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2010

Galvanized by Arizona’s tough new law against illegal immigrants, tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets in Los Angeles on Saturday as the city led the nation in May Day turnout to press for federal immigration reform.

As many as 60,000 immigrants and their supporters joined a peaceful but boisterous march through downtown Los Angeles to City Hall, waving American flags, tooting horns and holding signs that blasted the Arizona law. {snip}

Though the crowd was roughly half as large as police had projected, it was the largest May Day turnout since 2006, when anger over federal legislation that would have criminalized illegal immigrants and those who aid them brought out more than 1 million protesters nationwide. Since then, most activists have deemphasized street actions in favor of change at the ballot box through promoting citizenship and voter registration.

But this year is different. Outrage over the Arizona law, continued deportations and frustration over congressional delay in passing federal immigration reform prompted activists nationwide to urge massive street protests on this traditional day of celebrating workers’ rights.


Rallies in more than 90 other cities drew thousands of people from New York to Phoenix. In Washington, D.C., thousands cheered as 35 immigration rights advocates, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), were arrested in front of the White House after they disobeyed police orders by sitting on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue, calling on President Obama to move immigration reform forward.

But the national epicenter for opposition to the Arizona law has become Los Angeles. City officials have called for a boycott of the state, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has likened the law to Nazism, and activists put aside past differences to stage a unified march. Five coalitions representing more than 150 labor, faith and immigrant rights organizations worked closely with Spanish-language media to publicize the call to rally, according to Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.


At the march’s City Hall endpoint, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took the stage to raucous cheers. Speaking in English and Spanish, he called Los Angeles a “bilingual city” and expressed strong support for immigrants’ rights.

Afterward, Mahony took the microphone. “Everyone in God’s eyes is legal,” he said. “We are all standing with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”


In a major theme of the day, one man wore a white T-shirt reading “Todos Somos Arizona,” or “We Are All Arizona.”


The marchers also included African American union members, Korean drummers dressed in colorful traditional garb and even a white educator hoisting a sign that read “Gringos for Immigrants’ Rights.”

One illegal immigrant from South Korea, who asked to be identified by his first name, Jeff, said he came to protest the “broken-down immigration system.”

“This does not just affect Latinos,” said Jeff, wearing a white shirt that crossed out the word “minutemen.” “This affects all communities.”


A couple of dozen counter-protesters carried signs that read “Deport Illegal Mexicans,” “Remember the Alamo, Mexico,” “Boycott Mexico” and “Mexico Out of US.”

Claudia White, 56, a Tucson resident and naturalized Mexican immigrant who organized the counter-protest, said she supported the Arizona law because she worried about the consequences of what she called “open-border policies.” Recent immigrants, she said, show “less of an interest in how this country was originally set up–where everybody is an individual and doesn’t identify as part of a group or a block or a race.”


A handful of people supporting the law trickled in during the day and often had to leave under police escort after being surrounded by agitated demonstrators.

Amelia Sally, a 35-year-old customer service representative, held a sign that read: “Got Your Papers? If So . . . Welcome.” She was disheartened at the way demonstrators around the country were bashing her state.