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May Day Sees Protests from Immigrant, Occupy Activists

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Traditionally known as International Workers’ Rights Day, and more recently known as the “Day Without an Immigrant,” this May Day labor, immigrant, and Occupy activists are joining across the country to call for a slate of progressive changes.  Marches, rallies, and protests are planned in over 40 cities, including Milwaukee, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Oakland, New York, Seattle, and Chicago.

“We are fighting for immigrant rights, the right to unionize, fighting the attack on our civil rights, voter rights and fighting those who would destroy education, the environment and health care,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant group organizing marches today in Milwaukee. “We march for all people everywhere whose rights are under attack.”

“There has been a growing understanding that both movements cared for the other, and that both movements were part of the 99 percent,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles.

May Day has its roots with socialist and communist movements, who sought to make the day an official holiday for the working class worldwide.  In the US, the sentiment is celebrated in September with Labor Day, but May Day’s ethos of solidarity made it the perfect opportunity for Occupy groups around the nation and around the world to regroup and return to the streets.

May Day is also famous in the immigration reform world thanks to the “Day Without an Immigrant” protest from 2006, when hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants skipped work, school, and shopping to march in dozens of American cities.  Half a million immigrants turned out in downtown Los Angeles alone to join the call for comprehensive immigration reform, at that time being debated in both the House and Senate.

While none of the marches this year approach that number, immigration protests today are fraught with significance considering the Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments on Arizona’s SB 1070 law last week.  If the Court upholds the law, it could pave the way for the mass profiling and harassment of immigrants and Latinos across a variety of different states.  A strike against the law would be considered a victory for civil rights and a step toward federal immigration reform.

To that tune, a march in Atlanta today will shine light on Georgia’s anti-immigrant law, while a march in Yakima, Washington will focus on Secure Communities.  Meanwhile in Louisiana, the Congress of Day Laborers and the New Orleans Workers’ Center is launching the “Stand Up 2012: Make Justice Real” campaign today, which will call on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to follow her agency’s own deportation guidelines by ceasing to deport labor organizers and civil rights defenders.  That campaign is centered around the “Southern 32”–32 individuals who are in deportation proceedings because they stood up for civil, labor, and human rights.

As Jacinta Gonzalez, Lead Organizer, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, said: “Secretary Napolitano is punishing the people she promised to protect.  She should hold Southern immigration officials accountable for dereliction of duty.  Instead she has allowed them to trample the constitution and target those who are standing up for all of our rights.“