May Day protests take on a new political urgency in Oakland

Monday’s “May Day” demonstrations took on a new political urgency, given the Trump administration’s hard line on illegal immigration.  As protesters gathered at Fruitvale plaza in Oakland, 30-year-old Sagnicthe Salazar said this year’s celebration and protest felt different than in years past. 

“Our communities are super fearful,” Salazar said.  “They’re fearful to take their children to school, even coming to this march, there’s been talk that if you come out here, you could potentially get deported.”

For Salazar, the fear is personal.  She came to the United States at the age of four, brought by her parents, illegally, from Mexico.  In spite of the risk, she said she decided to speak out publicly.

“We’re risking arrest.  We’re willing to put our bodies on the line because people are dying,” she said, referring to immigrants who are barred from entering the U.S., or those who died while crossing the U.S./Mexico border.

In his first week in office, President Trump signed an executive order that expanded the pool of the nation’s undocumented immigrants who are considered “priorities” for deportation.  Immigrant advocates say the move has made many in the immigrant community reluctant to interact with law enforcement, even when they are the victims of crime.

Several U.S. cities have seen a significant drop in reports of crimes from Latino populations, including Los Angeles and Houston, which experts trace to a fear of deportation among people in the country illegally.

The Oakland and San Jose police departments don’t track the same statistics by ethnicity but Salazar said that she knows from first-hand experience that the trend is happening in the Bay Area as well.

“I know of cases where women have tried to report domestic violence and have ended up in a detention center,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the act of protesting is the only way the country will ever change.  “It’s important that we shed light on our stories so we don’t have to live in isolation and fear.”