The presence of so many children at the immigrants’ rights rally in Los Angeles’s MacArthur Park on May 1 was no accident: festive flower-making activities had been planned not just to entertain the thousands of families who turned out for the protest but to draw attention to the range of lives affected by the nation’s badly flawed immigration policies. A debate that considers immigrants only as workers, the organizers reasoned, obscures the way raids and deportations reverberate through whole communities. The scene that unfolded that day in the park, however, could not have been further from their expectations, as 600 highly trained LAPD officers fired some 150 rubber bullets into the throngs of people, which included not only children but many news reporters. An order in English to disperse had been inaudible and unintelligible anyway to the largely Spanish-speaking crowd. The images, broadcast on television and YouTube, showed exactly how the criminalization of immigrants can play out in real time.
Despite the hurdles it faces, the immigrants’ rights movement is going strong. Turnout at this year’s May Day was lower than last year but nonetheless significant: 80,000 in Milwaukee, 150,000 in Chicago, 35,000 in LA, according to media reports. Just as outrage at the notorious Sensenbrenner bill galvanized the massive 2006 protest, many of this year’s marchers were angry at the way the Bush Administration’s raids and deportations have been tearing apart families and communities. In December’s Swift raids alone, more than 1,200 immigrants, 95 percent of whom were accused of no crime, were arrested. Since then the raids have continued across the country, sweeping undocumented workers into jails, leaving families in the dark and children stranded. The raids have helped the Administration appease the nativist far right so it can push forward its corporate-friendly immigration reform agenda. In Washington, immigrant advocates are pressing Democrats to resist the Administration’s proposals and insisting on key policy reforms. In the streets, immigrants are clamoring for justice–and they will not soon forget MacArthur Park.