Immigration Takes Center Stage at May Day Rally

By Brenda Flanagan

More than 1,000 union laborers, immigrants and advocates gathered in afternoon sun at Liberty State Park, with its symbolic backdrop of the Lady with the Torch who welcomes those seeking refuge in America. That’s this May Day’s theme and it’s pointedly anti-Trump.

“The agenda of this administration has been to divide people, to make immigrants feel like they don’t belong here. What today is all about is to say to immigrants and workers, that we’re here to stay,” said Kevin Brown, vice president of 32BJ SEIU.

“Welcoming communities like Jersey City are important to this country. They built the backbone of this country. And that there is a resistance and push-back to the policies of the president,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Fulop declared Jersey City a sanctuary back in February and said it will resist attempts by the Trump administration to detain and deport unauthorized immigrants. For DREAMer Erica Solis, it’s a fraught time.

“Maybe one day ICE comes to my door and says, ‘Erica, you are deported.’ What will happen with my two kids? I don’t have nobody who will take care of them. So that is my issue,” she said.

At this May Day rally, the crowd danced. But in this highly charged political climate, consensus remains elusive.

So far, the president’s efforts to ban immigrants from certain nations and strip federal funding from sanctuary cities have been stymied by court decisions; the latest congressional budget agreement announced today, contains no money for his wall on the Mexican border — though on Saturday he promised a crowd in Pennsylvania it’s coming.

“And we need the wall. And we will build the wall as sure as you are standing there tonight. We need the wall,” he said.

At another rally at Rutgers-New Brunswick, about 200 students and faculty gathered to support DREAMer Carimer Andujar. The engineering major, president of UndocuRutgers and an outspoken advocate for immigrants says her DACA permit expired because of a paperwork mix-up by her lawyer and she’s been summoned for an interview at ICE’s deportation offices — despite the administration’s insistence it’s not targeting DREAMers.

“I’m walking into ICE without any form of deportation protection,” Andujar said. “For lack of a better word, I’m scared. But I do know I have a lot of support, not only from the students, faculty and staff here but also from elected officials.”

Her fear did not prevent her from speaking out at the rally, calling for amnesty.

“If DACA recipients are being deported, then DACA is not enough,” she said. “What needs to happen is that undocumented people who have never committed a crime need to be granted amnesty.”

But a knot of counter-protesters waved flags and disagreed.

“That completely contradicts American values and a system of law and order and fairness for both legal immigrants and American citizens and it presents a major — and I mean major — threat to our lives and safety,” said Rutgers student Brandon Chesner.

On one of the most diverse campuses in the nation, immigrants say they feel their security jeopardized in the wake of recent ICE crackdowns. Egyptian immigrant Abdo Elfeiki who just started a new grease truck restaurant here in January says he’s glad to see the rally.

“You know you cannot stop anyone. That’s what is good about America. The freedom, you know,” he said.