To the sound of mariachis and cheers, city officials declared yesterday, May 1, as “Immigrants’ Rights Day” in Gainesville.
Gainesville Mayor, Lauren Poe, and County Commissioner Ken Cornell read the proclamation together to a crowd of over 150 people at Bo Diddley Plaza. In their announcement, they recognized the historical, economic and cultural importance of immigrants in the area.
“[Gainesville and Alachua County] values the diversity and inclusion of new immigrants, new Americans, aspiring citizens from all over the world and from various backgrounds,” read Poe, who also invited residents of the city to embrace the cultural variety that exists in the United States.
The declaration was part of the celebration of International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day. According to data from the US Department of Labor, in 2015, there were more than 26 million foreign-born workers in the country, representing 16.7 percent of the total labor force. Almost half of them were of latino origin.
Other participating organizations in the event included Alachua County Labor Coalition, Gainesville IWW, North Central Florida Central Labor Council, National Women’s Liberation and Madres Sin Fronteras or Mothers Without Borders.
In his speech, Poe also condemned the recent voting of some state representatives including Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, who voted in favor of proposed bill HB 697, which would punish sanctuary cities and any public official who impedes the collaboration of local governmental agencies and federal immigration authorities. Under this project, officials who refuse to cooperate could be removed from their posts.
The mayor was joined by other city and county commissioners, among them Harvey Budd, Adrian Hayes-Santos, Harvey Ward David Arreola, Hutch Hutchinson and Helen Warren. Each commissioner introduced himself or herself to the crowd, and shared their own migration connection or that of their parents and grandparents.
David Arreola, a city commissioner for District 3 and son of Mexicans, said it’s significant “to recognize the importance of immigrants in our communities, and do it at a local level.”
“You always hear ‘We are a country of immigrants,’ but how often do you hear ‘We are a city of immigrants?,’” Arreola added.
He also said that in the last few months, many residents have felt uncertainty and fear due to President Trump’s rhetoric and policies, and they want to let people know that their local elected officials don’t condone any of these “discriminatory policies.”
“Immigrants’ Rights Day” is an initiative of Madres Sin Fronteras, a local grassroots organization that formed after the 2016 Presidential elections.
The group is composed of close to 30 families that aim to raise awareness about the rights and experiences of immigrants.
The leaders reached out to the city commission with five petitions, among them the declaration of “Immigrants Rights Day,” the improvement of anti-bullying rules in schools and the city’s compliance with the ACLU’s Freedom Cities’ nine policies.
The organization is also asking the commission for a special local ID card that would allow undocumented immigrants to use certain services like public libraries, and for Gainesville to become a sanctuary city.
During the event, various members of Madres Sin Fronteras expressed some of their concerns, exacerbated by the rhetoric and policies of President Trump. In particular, they mentioned the newly formed Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement office, known as VOICE.
“It’s hard to know there’s a new President who doesn’t like us for all the wrong reasons,” said Norma Moreno, one of the members of Madres Sin Fronteras, while sharing her immigration story in Spanish with the crowd. Moreno arrived in Gainesville from Mexico seven years ago, escaping domestic violence and poverty.
“I feel like I belong here, that I’m part of the community. Not all [immigrants] are bad. We are normal people, people that work, people with families,” added Moreno.
Her son, Eric, also shared his experience with bullying, which he said was caused by the growing tensions and anti-immigrant climate that emerged in the country after Trump’s election.
Beto Soto, one of Madres Sin Fronteras’ founding members and a postdoctoral student at UF, mentioned some of the immigration measures taken during Trump’s first 100 days.
Among them, Soto discussed two executive orders that expand the people targeted for deportation and subjected to expedited removal, the hiring of 10,000 new ICE officers and the establishment of VOICE, which includes a national hotline where people can call to report crimes committed by immigrants.
“Our speculation is that we will get roughly 20 to 40 permanent field ICE agents in Alachua County,” said Soto. “We know that there’s roughly four to seven thousand affected community members.”
Soto presented Madres Sin Fronteras’ alternative to VOICE: the campaign Voices of Solidarity or “VOS.”
“We know the current administration is not going to use VOICE to protect the victims. What he’s going to do is use VOICE to criminalize and slander migrant communities,” he added.
The May Day celebration continued with interventions from other groups, among these the Gainesville Interfaith Alliance for Migrant Justice and the Alachua County Labor Coalition.
Gainesville was not the only place where people stood in solidarity for immigrants’ rights and recognition. Thousands of people from all over the world commemorated the International Workers’ Day with political demonstrations. National media reported that workers from Los Angeles, New York and Miami marched in support of immigrants.
In some cities the protests turned violent.
Ten people were arrested in Puerto Rico. More than 50 people were detained in Chile. Several french police officers were hurt when a group of young protesters threw firebombs at them. Thousands of Indonesians marched for higher minimum wagers. Venezuelans, the opposition continued protesting against Nicolas Maduro’s government.
At Bo Diddley Plaza, Soto invited the crowd to call the VOICE hotline and sing “Amazing Grace” together.
“Amazing Grace is a song about recognizing your wrongdoings and choosing a different path, of humility and compassion,” said Marie Clifford before guiding the song. “We can sing this song to another man that can also choose a better path.”