On May 1, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their allies are expected to take to the streets in a nationwide show of power. Immigrants have been marching on May Day for a decade now, first in 2006, when 1.5 million people took to the streets across the country to demand immigration reform. Until that year, May Day had been associated solely with International Workers’ Day; now immigrants have made it a day to demand their rights, too. That year marked a watershed moment; it was the first time immigrants and their loved ones took to the streets in such massive numbers. In the decade since, marching on May 1 has become an annual custom, and the day is a key national day of action for immigrant-rights activists and advocates.
This year is no ordinary year, though.
“As immigrants our livelihoods, our futures, our families—they’re all in danger,” says Jorge-Mario Cabrera, the director of communications at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “May Day presents an opportunity for us to not silence ourselves and to remain vigilant.”
Hundreds of actions, including strikes, marches, vigils, and rallies, are planned for college campuses and in cities and towns across the country. It’s not just coastal cities either. In the lead-up to the May Day march in Phoenix, children of undocumented parents will gather at a church to share their stories before an all-night vigil, says Promise Arizona executive director Petra Falcon. In Milwaukee, where a major march is also being planned, the immigrant-rights organization Voces de la Frontera has been distributing letters in English and Spanish for workers to give to their bosses, asking employers to support workers who choose to participate in the day of action. Activists in Scranton, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; Newark, New Jersey; and dozens of other cities have been calling for a one-day strike.
“We believe that when the country recognizes it depends on immigrant labor to function we will win permanent protection from deportation for the 11 million undocumented immigrants; the right to travel freely to visit our loved ones abroad, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Movimiento Cosecha’s Maria Fernanda Cabello in a statement. According to the New Jersey–based group, hundreds of thousands of people around the country have pledged to participate in the strike.
Organizers and advocates say they expect high turnout this year.
“I definitely think this is going to be one of the biggest May Day marches,” says Kent Wong, executive director of the UCLA Labor Center, which is a member of the Los Angeles May Day Coalition. The turbulent Trump era and draconian attacks on immigrant communities all but guarantee a bigger and more passionate turnout than usual this year. As a candidate, Trump pursued a rhetorical stance that paints immigrants as dangerous criminals who threaten the very existence of the United States. As president, he’s translated that rhetoric into executive actions and initiatives that leave every one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants vulnerable to deportation, regardless of their criminal background. With programs like VOICE—Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement—which the administration rolled out this week, the federal government has invited the general public to report crimes that suspected undocumented immigrants have committed.