Hundreds of protesters rallied in front of the Philip Burton Federal Building in downtown San Francisco Monday evening, capping a nationwide day of protest in which an estimated one million immigrants and supporters skipped work to push for amnesty for illegal immigrants. The San Francisco protest shut down a block of Golden Gate Street as demonstrators shouted “Si se puede” (“Yes we can” in Spanish) and demanded that Congress legalize all immigrants to the United States.
The nationwide May Day actions—dubbed by organizers the “Day Without Immigrants”—were called in response to federal legislation which would criminalize millions of illegal immigrants. The San Francisco protests included a morning march down Market Street, a daylong rally at Civic Center Plaza, and the convergence late afternoon at the Federal Building. The boisterous and diverse crowd included recent immigrants from Latin America, a contingent from the ANSWER coalition, and a group calling itself “European Descendants for Immigrant Rights,” among others.
San Francisco police did not estimate the size of the crowd, which certainly numbered in the thousands, but one officer said that the department dispatched three hundred policemen to the event.
Speakers alternated between English and Spanish and colored their speeches with references to other political movements as well as religious language.
“We are all together under God,” shouted Padre Jorge, a Catholic priest. “When Jesus was resuscitated, no one recognized him. Today we also don’t recognize him. He is among us in the immigrant.”
“I came here today because I came from a family of immigrants and I’m tired of people saying ‘Go back to your country,’” said one third grader to a wave of applause.
Other speakers railed against military recruitment in public schools and claimed solidarity with a myriad of groups including Palestinians and Haitians.
Assemblyman Leland Yee promised the protesters that the state government will not turn its back on the plight of immigrants.
“I am an immigrant,” Yee told the cheering crowd. “California will not tear families apart. We will not separate mothers from fathers or children from parents. We in the state assembly will not allow federal dollars come in and separate our families.”
Among the demonstrators was Juan Antonio Molina, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from El Salvador 26 years ago. He said that immigrants from Latin America deserve respect.
“All these people are working where white people don’t want to,” said Molina. “They work for less than minimum wage.”
Daniel Santos, who has lived in the U.S. illegally since moving from Mexico twenty years ago, said he worked Monday morning, came out to protest because he hopes documentation will help him get a better job than his job as a dishwasher, which pays $6.25 an hour.
“Without papers, you’re nobody,” he said. “We’re not criminals, we’re here for work. If they open the door for us, we’ll be very happy because I don’t think I could go back to my country because it’s so poor. I couldn’t support my family.”