Demonstrators march through Santa Rosa, rallying for labor and immigrant rights

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Labor and immigrant rights activists hit Santa Rosa streets Wednesday, joining hundreds of thousands of demonstrators around the world for International Workers’ Day.

The Santa Rosa rally kicked off at 3:30 p.m. at the Roseland Village Shopping Center. About 120 marchers made the 1.5-mile trek to Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square, where community speakers addressed the crowd.

The rally was put on by the May 1st Coalition, an alliance of local groups including Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County, the North Bay Labor Council, the North Bay Jobs with Justice and Comité VIDA, an immigrant rights organization, said coalition member Attila Nagy.

Marchers protested the separation of families in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, as well as called for the adoption of a $15 minimum wage and more affordable housing.

As of April, ICE was housing more than 50,200 migrants in long-term detention facilities compared to a daily average of 34,400 in 2016, the New York Times reported. The newspaper reported in December that as many as 15,000 migrant children, some who crossed the border alone, were in federal shelters.

“Can you imagine having a child who doesn’t know where you are and you don’t know where he or she is?” Nagy said about the family separations at the border. “We want to bring that awareness to the people.”

Santa Rosa officers closed off access to the roadway as marchers made their way through the route, causing afternoon traffic to come to a temporary halt in some areas. A few passing drivers honked in support of the action, while others used their phones to record the passing crowd.

Among the marchers was 42-year-old Windsor resident Claudia Sevilla, who said she was inspired to attend the event after learning about the separation of children from their parents by border officials. The issue is one that struck a chord with her because she and her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was a child and she was undocumented until she was in high school, she said. Sevilla said she could not imagine what it would have been like to be separated from her family at a young age.

“I’ve been watching the news and I felt this was the right time to act,” Sevilla said.

The group made their way through the Santa Rosa Plaza, their chants echoing through the shopping center as they made their way to the iconic hand statue on B Street. Across the street, four people with the group Divest from Immigrant Detention Centers Campaign enclosed themselves behind a small chain-link fence that blocked the entrance to the nearby Wells Fargo bank branch. Members of the group demanded the bank stop doing business with corporations that own and manage detention centers. They called on other banks, such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, to do the same.

“People sometimes don’t feel like the can make a difference,” said Toni Ramirez, a Santa Rosa resident who enclosed herself behind the fence. “But moving business away from a bank can be impactful.”

Santa Rosa officers arrived at the bank but made no arrests after a branch manager decided not to pursue action against the protesters, Santa Rosa Sgt. Summer Gloeckner said.

In 2006, millions of protesters held similar rallies across the U.S. on International Workers’ Day in opposition of tougher immigration laws, namely H.R. 4437. The legislation, which was introduced in December 2005 but failed in the Senate, would have criminalized undocumented immigrants in the country.

That year in Santa Rosa, an estimated 10,000 people packed in the heart of Roseland before marching to Juilliard Park. Police reported no problems despite the thousands of demonstrators in attendance, some who brought bags to pick up garbage left behind by the crowd or that was already there.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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