Thousands marched in peaceful May Day rallies in downtown Los Angeles, repeating their annual call for immigration reform but acknowledging that prospects for action in Washington remain grim.
The crowd was a mere shadow of the hundreds of thousands who emerged nine years ago to march joyously down the streets of Los Angeles, demanding a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas.
And there was no aggressive response from police, who eight years ago wielded batons and fired “less than lethal” rounds at demonstrators and reporters.
Instead, Friday’s event took on the air of a carnival on a hot afternoon, in one part led by Jornaleros del Norte — Laborers of the North — on a flatbed truck playing ranchera music and dozens of people holding up a U.S. flag the size of an intersection. They were trailed by people selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs and carts selling strawberry, coconut and lime treats.
As speakers lamented a judge’s blocking of President Obama’s effort to shield millions from deportation, they cheered former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s support for a pathway to legality for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
And they pledged to make their voices heard on election day in 2016 against a Republican-controlled Congress that has stymied immigration reform.
“We will be there at the ballot box next year to make sure they pay a price,” said Juan Jose Gutierrez, who helped organize the original 2006 May Day immigration march.
Many families were among the marchers. Fatima Rios, 23, came with her mother, sister and two young daughters. She said Obama’s effort to defer deportation for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents would help protect her mother, who entered the country without permission.
Rios said her mother “wants the opportunity to earn a living here legally.” And, Rios said, “I want my daughters to have their grandmother here.”
Families expressed deep concern about the threat of deportation. Flor Muñoz, 18, who received temporary deportation relief as part of a program to defer legal action against immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, said she is the only one in her family who is not at risk of being sent out of the country.
“I want to be able to see my dad not be scared anymore. He doesn’t want to travel around because he’s scared to get deported,” said Muñoz, of Compton.
Consuelo Soto, 38, feared for herself and her husband, who are here illegally and have a 5-year-old son who was born in the U.S., while their other child, 16, was recently given protection from deportation.
“We don’t know what will happen to our family,” she said in Spanish. “It is hard: emotionally, economically. We are here to work and be a part of this country.”
As the crowd thinned out, Silvia Sandoval, 56, said she was disheartened by the turnout.
“If people protest, and they don’t see the results they want, they get discouraged,” she said in Spanish. “But we have to keep the fight up.”