2007 May Day draws smaller crowd, similar enthusiasm

Thousands of supporters for immigrant and labor rights gathered in the Park Blocks Tuesday, May 1 for the annual “May Day” rally.

Thousands of supporters for immigrant and labor rights gathered in the Park Blocks Tuesday, May 1 for the annual “May Day” rally. Each year, people in cities from Salem to Chicago amass to participate in marches and rallies around immigration issues.

Demonstrators shouted “Arriba legalization!” and “Si, se peude!” as they marched up and down the Park Blocks while holding signs that read “We love the U.S.A.” and “Amnesty Now.”

Last year, over 5,000 marchers took to the streets in Portland. This year, however, attendance was lower, with close to 4,000 demonstrators in downtown Portland. Earlier in the day, close to 2,000 protestors rallied at the state Capitol in Salem.

“There’s a lot less people and a lot more fear,” said Peter, a participant in the rally who was carrying a large banner from the ENCLACE International Organization down the middle of the street. He said that he thinks the turnout is lower this year because of an increased number of raids and arrests of illegal immigrants.

Bethy, another participant at the rally and a high school teacher who works with impoverished kids from immigrant families, said the United States needs to recognize the value of immigrants as people.

“People could become exploited, there is always that risk,” she said. “But I support anything that recognizes the legitimacy of these people. This country needs to realize that these people are here to work.”

Some at the rally said their homes have been raided and their family members arrested, which, they said, is due to an increased watch over immigration.

“They raided my home in the middle of the night,” one marcher said. “They arrested some of us and right now three of my family members are going to be deported.”

Some attributed the decrease in demonstrators to a general frustration with the political system.

“Last year there was an ongoing impetus behind the movement, there were bills working their way through the House that gave people hope,” said Diana Rempe, a student in the doctoral program for community psychology and a member of a campus organization that supports labor rights.

“This year,” Rempe said, “the administration is trying to make it even harder for people to obtain visas. Even those who are citizens can’t get visas for their families.”

In addition to difficulty getting visas, the guest worker program is another point of contention. Approved by the Senate, the plan would allow 400,000 immigrants to work in the United States for five years before applying for permanent residency. There has been much debate on this issue.

Although many of the demonstrators were emotional, the rally remained peaceful. Sgt. Fender of the Portland Police Department said that May Day, in its fourth year of substantial turnout, is almost always an incident-free event in Portland.

“These are a good group of people,” Fender said. “They take care of themselves and don’t cause trouble.”

At Salem’s rally, many in the crowd carried signs that read, “Real ID No,” a reference to the controversy in the Oregon Legislature over trying to bring Oregon into compliance with a new federal law that requires proof of legal residence to get a driver’s license.

Some lawmakers say Oregon should stop giving driving privileges to undocumented immigrants when it adopts the new federal requirements, which require proof of citizenship or legal residence to get a driver’s license. Oregon is one of nine states that do not require proof of legal residence to obtain driver’s licenses.

Immigrants rights advocates and some agriculture industry officials say Oregon’s current policy has worked well because it encourages illegal workers who are driving anyway to undergo driver’s training and pass a test showing familiarity with driving laws.