May Day Immigration Rally 2010 — Los Angeles | Photo credit: jvoves

Thousands of Southern Californians Mobilize Over Immigration Concerns

The grassroots movement continues to flourish in California as political demonstrations sweep the state’s largest and most progressive counties. On February 18, thousands will convene in downtown Los Angeles and San Diego to march in solidarity with immigrants and refugees. Their message is simple and clear: Immigrants make America great.

“Free the People” is their rallying cry, while their message is an equal mix of anti-Trump Administration sentiment and pro-immigrant solidarity. The description on the Facebook event page, which has already drawn over 20,000 participants, reads:

The page also lists the various demands put forth by those organizing the event, such as “an immediate stop to the ICE raids and deportations,” and a call for Mayor Eric Garcetti to officially declare L.A. a sanctuary city.

Community activist and founder of Healing Hearts of L.A. Angela McMillan, who is helping to organize the event, said the event garnered an unexpectedly large response.

“We had no intention of making it small… But it grew so astronomically huge overnight that we really saw it as a sign,” McMillan said. “We’re very overwhelmed at how many people want to make a difference in this march.”

L.A. native Candice Silsbee is one of the thousands who will be marching on the 18th. Having lived for seven years in San Juan Bautista, a town in a county heavily dependent on agriculture, Silsbee said she is especially aware of the labor contributions of immigrant and migrant agricultural workers.

“I’m marching for the contribution that all immigrants make, but the one that’s closest to home is the agricultural impact,” Silsbee said. “They’re very hardworking people who work very hard for very little, and do stuff that other people won’t do.”

Meanwhile, McMillan has been working closely with the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure the safety of participants during the march. “This is a peaceful march, we’re hoping and praying that it will remain that way and that it will not be anything that has to do with riots or anything like that,” McMillan said.

With a population of more than 3.2 million, over 13 percent of which is foreign-born and over 48 percent of which is nonwhite, L.A. ranks as one of the most diverse cities in the state. It is also one of many Californian cities that have adopted “sanctuary” policies, which aim to protect the city’s thousands of undocumented residents from deportation. However, Mayor Garcetti has asserted there is no lack of cooperation between Los Angeles and federal law enforcement “when it comes to immigration.”

As the “Free the People” Immigration March grows, organizers are also working to bring the movement to San Diego, a county comprised of over 795,000 immigrants according to 2012 data. James Elia, a representative of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in San Diego, reached out to the organizers of the L.A. event to plan a solidarity march on the same date.

“We’re a border city here in San Diego. The media talks so much about immigration problems and ‘illegal’ problems… It’s in our own backyard, and we’re telling you right now this isn’t the biggest issue facing our country,” Elia said. “The biggest issue facing our country is the way we treat immigrants, the way immigrants are looked upon.”

Elia also goes on to emphasize the inclusive, bipartisan nature of the march.

Inclusivity has remained an important ideological goal since the march consolidated with one planned by Activist San Diego and VoicesRally. Both the L.A. and San Diego events were originally named “Immigrants Make America Great” — according to organizer Mohamed Abdallah, who is a member of both organizations, the San Diego event was quickly renamed the “March in Solidarity With Immigrants” in order to “recognize that Native Americans and the indigenous people of America are equally [as] important as immigrants.”

Abdallah also noted that an objective of the sister march (similar to that of L.A.) is to demand that Mayor Kevin Faulconer officially declare San Diego a sanctuary city. “While [San Diego] has one of the busiest border crossings in the world, Mayor Faulconer has taken no action to protect immigrants from Trump’s policies,” Abdallah said.

Though San Diego appears on lists of sanctuary cities in California, the city has not formally declared sanctuary status.

As Feb. 18 approaches, marches, protests and rallies for a variety of causes are spreading throughout California cities and college campuses. Though the momentum spurred by recent political events is a major driving force for these demonstrations, perhaps enough to fuel grassroots campaigning through the rest of the year, longtime activists agree that the sentiments are nothing new.

“The Women’s March on Washington has sparked an enormous momentum in grassroots organizing, but I also believe it is part of a larger movement that has been growing for a long time,” Abdallah said.

“These protests are not sparking because of hate for Donald Trump,” said DNC representative James Elia. “These protests are sparking because Americans are finally fed up with the way the system is going.”

Action in solidarity with immigrants continues to be especially robust in the coastal state of California. While it is clear that protests all over the nation are inspired by current events, they seem more so to be manifestations of frustrations over long-latent issues — from deportations to climate change — disjointed, though peripherally linked, elements of a revolution long overdue.

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