By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The number of immigrants deported from Sonoma County was on the minds – and signs – of people who marched through Santa Rosa Sunday for the annual May Day rally.
People carried hand-painted posters that read: “No illegal deportation,” “No immigration raids,” and “Car impounds = legal racism.”
Santa Rosa residents Vicente Gaona, 22, and his wife, Jael Garcia, 25, joined a large group marching down Sebastopol Avenue in the hot sun, chanting for President Barack Obama to reform the nation’s immigration laws.
“We’re trying to make it heard. We want immigration reform,” said Gaona, who works for a concrete company.
Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe and the U.S. marched on May 1, or May Day, to champion workers’ rights. The largest crowds were reported in Europe, including 200,000 protesters who took over a central plaza in Istanbul, Turkey. In the United States, immigrant rights also have become part of the day’s message.
In Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, May Day brought hundreds of people to the Dollar Tree store on Sebastopol Road at 1 p.m. for a rally and a winding march through Railroad Square and downtown to Juilliard Park.
Once there, an immigrant rights group held a mock immigration raid, complete with handcuffs, orange jumpsuits and fake federal agents. During the skit, two Santa Rosa Junior College students sat on a nearby bench and talked about how many of their friends and family have been deported.
“Everyone is effected by it,” said Mike Gomez, 26, of Santa Rosa. “Everyone hears the stories. They see how bad it is.”
The pair counted more than a dozen people in their lives who have been deported.
“A lot of people have no criminal backgrounds, and they’re put in jail and treated like crap,” said Diné Lonewolf, 26, of Santa Rosa. “I don’t see it as a crime to look for a better life.”
Police officials estimated between 800 and 1,000 people came to the rally. Many people had expected a larger turnout.
Staff at Lola’s grocery at Sebastopol Road and Dutton Avenue put out boxes of water, juice and apples for the marchers, however the crowd barely made a dent in their offerings.
In past years Santa Rosa’s march has attracted thousands of people, including as many as 10,000 in 2006. Last year, about 3,500 boisterous people joined the rally, galvanized by furor over the Arizona governor’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
This year’s event was peaceful, though tension briefly mounted between rally-goers and police officers after a snack vendor was taken in handcuffs to the police station.
The man had failed to show officers a permit to sell food and didn’t have identification, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Rich Cell said. He was cited for violating a city ordinance, a misdemeanor, and was released, he said.