A movement is building on May Day in defence of immigrant rights

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Photo:  Paul Cone/flickr

Arturo Hernandez, like so many millions of immigrants, came to the United States in order to forge a better life for his family. He is one of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants without whom the U.S. economy would grind to a halt, yet who are forced to live in the shadows, at risk of arrest, detention and deportation. Arturo spent nine months in 2015 living in sanctuary in a church, the First Unitarian Society of Denver. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) notified Arturo back then that he was not considered a "priority for removal" from the U.S., that they would exercise "prosecutorial discretion," in effect letting him carry on with his life. That all ended Wednesday. As he was loading materials for his work laying tile, Arturo was arrested by ICE and taken into detention. ICE told one of his advocates that the letter he has from the Obama administration doesn't count, as there are no longer "priorities." All those who are undocumented will be targeted equally, it seems.

Jeanette Vizguerra is currently living in sanctuary, in the same church where Arturo found protection. She went in not long after Donald Trump's inauguration, and remains inside. Jeanette has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years, working as a janitor and as a union organizer. Her decision to enter sanctuary came as the newly installed Trump administration began threatening "sanctuary cities" with a shut-off of federal funds.

This hardworking mother of four eloquently and unreservedly speaks about the condition of undocumented people in the United States, and stands defiantly in the face of Donald Trump's bigoted pronouncements against them. She proudly shows her 2016 tax returns, challenging President Trump to do the same. Jeanette was shocked to learn last week that she had been named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2017. Since she couldn't travel to the award gala in New York City, she was feted inside the Denver church Tuesday night. The next morning, Arturo Hernandez was picked up by ICE.

While the threat of deportation prevented Jeanette from speaking at the NYC ceremony, musician John Legend was there. Legend offered his opinion of Donald Trump: "He's manifestly unqualified, not curious, not good at legislating or really anything the job requires. He doesn't have any depth about any subject. And he's also using the office of the presidency as a way to make money for himself with his businesses, so he's corrupt. I can't say anything nice about the guy, I think he's one of the worst people I've ever encountered in public life."

Strong words from public figures like Legend attract media attention, and can go viral. But resistance to the Trump administration's policies will only have weight if backed by movements. The immigrants-rights movement, organized by some of the most vulnerable people in our society, is hitting the streets in force on May 1.

May Day is historically a day of resistance. If the past is any predictor, millions around the United States will march in defense of immigrant rights, and against the increasingly draconian, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policies of President Donald Trump. On May Day, immigrants, their families and their allies organize, march and resist.

Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign close to two years ago, verbally attacking Mexicans by saying, "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." He promised to build a wall along the southern border. He reversed President Barack Obama's decision to stop using private, for-profit prisons for immigrant detentions, and has now started deporting "dreamers"-- young, undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as children -- who handed over their names and addresses to the federal government, under Obama, in order to gain some degree of protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

We visited Arturo Hernandez when he was in sanctuary, in February 2015. A soft-spoken man, he told us: "We come here, United States, to work and the future for the family. We are not criminal. ... We work and pay taxes. Everything I do, I do for my family."

Donald Trump's immigration ban was blocked by several judges, as was his attempt to pull funding from sanctuary cities, in a separate decision. Trump fires off angry tweets at any who oppose his policies. Those striving for a safe refuge here in the United States, for a place to live, study and work in dignity, free from the fear of being snatched off the street by ICE, are defying his tweets and massing in the streets. They are a force more powerful, organizing for change.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Paul Cone/flickr

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