Georgina Salazar of Lamont joined about 200 immigration reform supporters who marched through downtown streets during the May 1, 2023 Fresno May Day Immigration Reform rally/march. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

What's at stake?

Fresno's May Day Coalition is calling for federal immigration reform as well as more protections and support from local and state governments.

Fresno immigrant and labor groups are calling on local, state, and federal leaders to bolster their protections for immigrant workers — and to support immigration reform.

On Monday, over 200 people marched in downtown Fresno to commemorate May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, an annual day celebrated on May 1 to show solidarity with workers worldwide.

The May Day coalition had several priorities at the local, state, and federal levels to protect and support immigrants.

About 200 immigration reform supporters marched in front of Fresno City Hall during the May 1, 2023 Fresno May Day Immigration Reform rally/march. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

“How many years have we been fighting for immigration reform?” Olga Loza, an organizer with The Dolores Huerta Foundation asked the crowd, “How many years have to pass for us to achieve (immigration reform)?”

The May Day Coalition of Fresno, which includes several a number of local labor and immigrant rights organizations is focusing on immigration-related issues, due to the unique host of challenges undocumented workers face.

With cheers, speeches, music, dances, and prayers led by local faith leaders, the group committed to continuing the push for immigration reform, no matter how long it takes.

“We already have many, many years in this fight,” Brenda Ordaz, a community education coordinator with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said in Spanish on Monday, “and we’re going to carry on.”

Oaxacan dancers joined about 200 immigration reform supporters during the May 1, 2023 Fresno May Day Immigration Reform rally/march in downtown Fresno. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Local, state, and federal priorities

City, county, state, and federal leaders should do more to protect immigrant workers, marchers said Monday.

At the city level, the coalition is calling for the City of Fresno to formally declare May 1 as the day of the immigrant worker.

The group is calling on both the city of Fresno and Fresno County to protect immigrants by declaring a sanctuary county. In particular, marchers want Fresno County to stop cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In 2021, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office reported that it transferred 44 people to ICE. Over a 1,000 immigrants in the San Joaquin Valley were transferred to ICE since state laws prohibiting local law enforcement cooperation with immigration officials went into effect, according to a report by the ACLU of Northern California.

A boy waves a UFW flag while walking downtown during the Fresno May Day Immigration Reform rally/march on May 1, 2023. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Marchers called for leaders to support the HOME Act, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, that would limit state prisons from transferring non-citizens to federal immigration custody after the completion of their sentences.

“It’s time for the people that live, work, and form part of this community to feel safe and secure in our homes and our communities,” Ordaz said.

The group is also rallying behind the Safety Net for All campaign, a state-wide push to extend the safety net to undocumented people.

A 2022 study by the UC Merced Community and Labor Center found that California’s 2.2 million undocumented workers account for one of every 16 workers in the state and contribute an estimated $3.7 billion in annual state and local tax revenues. Researchers estimate that 7% of the 1.6 million workers in the central San Joaquin Valley are undocumented.

But because of their legal status, these workers don’t have access to benefits such as unemployment. Earlier this year, state Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, introduced a bill known as the Excluded Workers Program, which would allow undocumented workers to receive unemployment benefits for two years. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill last year, citing costs.

“Immigrants are key contributors to the local economy, working diligently and paying their fair share,” Maricela Gutierrez, Executive Director of SIREN, said in a news release. “We need a safety net for all workers, especially with natural disasters that destabilize their workplace and daily living.”

At the federal level, the group is throwing its support behind a 2021 bill introduced by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat from California, that would give citizenship to essential workers.

They are also calling on elected officials to support the Registry Act, which would update an existing registry that would allow certain immigrants that have been continuously present in the United States to apply for permanent residency.

About 200 immigration reform supporters marched through downtown streets during the May 1, 2023 Fresno May Day Immigration Reform rally/march. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Not the first push for sanctuary status in Fresno

The call for a sanctuary city and county comes five years after the former mayor of Fresno, Lee Brand, said he would not designate Fresno as a sanctuary city because doing so would jeopardize federal funds for public works projects. At the time, Donald Trump threatened to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities with an executive order. The order was later declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.

City leaders have mixed feelings about the designation today.

Councilmember Garry Bredefeld said in a text to The Bee/Fresnoland that he “strongly opposes” a sanctuary city status, whereas Councilmember Luis Chavez said Fresno is already a “welcoming city.”

Chavez said in a text to The Bee/Fresnoland that Fresno is the only ”city in the (Central) valley to have a legal defense fund to help families stay together and avoid deportation.”

The city of Fresno formed an immigrant affairs committee in 2019, as well as contributed $200,000 to a legal defense fund in the 2022 fiscal year budget. In 2021, the city of Fresno also appointed three liaisons to build trust between the city and its immigrant communities and has taken in refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries, Chavez said.

Furthermore, he added, the city does not ask anything about immigration status to any resident receiving city services, and Fresno Police Department, unless directed by a judge, doesn’t share any information with immigration authorities.

“Symbolic terminology is OK to have,” he said, “but as a city we have put out money where our mouth is.”

Chavez said Fresno has the opportunity to continue investing in the local immigrant community this upcoming budget cycle.

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

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