May 5, 2021

May Day Demonstrators March Through Town, Demand Rights For Immigrants and Workers

MAY DAY MARCHERS: Calling for solidarity and support for immigrants and workers, about 100 demonstrators, led by Unidad Latina en Accion New Jersey, marched through Palmer Square on Saturday, May 1, heading from Witherspoon Presbyterian Church through the downtown area and down John Street to Community Park.

By Donald Gilpin

More than 100 demonstrators, led by Unidad Latina en Accion New Jersey (ULA-NJ), gathered outside the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church on Saturday morning, May 1, to rally, then march up Witherspoon Street and through downtown to celebrate May Day and International Workers Day and to demand recognition and rights for all immigrants and workers.

The ULA-NJ, marking 12 years of work on behalf of Latinos in New Jersey, issued a 13-item list focusing on demands for the U.S. government to “recognize the humanity of all immigrant working people” and to take “immediate action to end the racist denial of working papers to working people.”

“I’m here to stand in solidarity with our Black and brown workers in Princeton,” said Newark Water Coalition Co-founder Anthony Diaz. “A lot of workers are suffering injustices in terms of workplace safety. Minimum wage, wage theft, health benefits, and time off are also issues, and so, even though we’re an environmental justice group, we believe that all issues are interconnected, so you can’t talk about climate justice or the water issues without talking about food insecurity, mental health, and definitely workplace safety.”

He continued, “I want to stand in solidarity with other people who are in the struggle and the movement. It’s important that we show up for one another.”

An array of signs and banners in Spanish and English proclaimed a wide range of issues such as “Stop Worker Abuse,” “Stop Detention Centers,” “Stop Silencing Us,” and “Immigrants’ Rights=Workers Rights=Human Rights.” As the marchers proceeded past downtown restaurants and around Palmer Square before circling back down John Street to Community Park, they chanted: “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido (The people united will never be defeated),” “Unidad es poder (Unity is power),” and “Que queremos? Trabajos seguros! Cuando? Ahora! (What do we want? Safe jobs. When? Now.)”

Princeton Councilwoman Eve Niedergang explained why she joined the marchers. “I’m here because I think our communities that are undocumented in particular have suffered horribly through the pandemic,” she said.  “The aid programs that have been available for others have not been available for them. This is a day to stand up and say, ‘People are people whatever their legal status is,’ and we need to do a better job of taking care of everyone in our community. That’s why I’m here today.”

Recalling the generations of her family who have lived and worked in Princeton, Fern Spruill, a Princeton Civil Rights Commission member and former member of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education, stated that she was marching with the demonstrators to promote solidarity and support. “I’ve never seen it this vocal before,” she said. “We’ve been doing this march for some time, and we’ve been silenced for too long. We just need support. We’re not asking anybody to give us anything. We’re just asking, ‘Can you open the door?’ And we can get it ourselves. That’s what it’s all about.”

UNA-NJ Director Ana Paola described the march as “just a beginning of joint action for full immigrant rights in Princeton and nationwide.” She continued, “No more half-measures and empty promises are acceptable for 12 million undocumented workers who have been living in and subsidizing the United States for years after fleeing their own countries.”

The marchers’ demands also included the closure of all detention centers nationwide, the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), papers for all, and work authorization for all who have worked during the pandemic, along with addressing other urgent needs of  immigrants and working class residents.

In addition to ULA-NJ, the march was supported by a diverse group of organizations from across the state as well as local groups, including Princeton Mutual Aid, Princeton Anti-Austerity Coalition, and Princeton Graduate Students United.

On May 3, just two days after May Day, President Joe Biden, whose policies on immigration and immigrants had come under fire from Democrats and various immigration advocates, announced a policy reversal that would increase to 62,500, from the Trump Administration’s limit of 15,000, the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States during the next six months.