Immigrant groups rally on May Day in York, across U.S.

Jana Benscoter
The York Dispatch

A dangerous gang culture pervading El Salvador inspired Margarita Harvey to flee to America, eventually settling in York City. Her 27-day journey at age 19, during which she said she nearly died, is something she said she won’t forget.

Jadian Torres, 5 of West York, wears a t-shirt saying "Don't deport my Dad" as group of immigrants and advocates protest in front  of  Senator Scott Wagner's office to denounce his hard line position against immigrants, Monday, May 1, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

It is her reason for wanting to push for broader immigration policies.

Harvey, owner of Satellite and Multi Services in York City, and her friend Elena Aguilar, owner of Variedades Latinas in York City, both closed shop Monday to protest  anti-immigrant policies. May 1 is considered International Labor Day, which is why local activists decided to join an organized protest at the state Capitol. Among them were immigrant business owners, such as Harvey and Aguilar, arguing against laws that restrict undocumented immigrants from becoming legal citizens.

“I went three days without food and one day without water,” Harvey recalls of her trek. “Those are scary memories.”

At age 24, Harvey married an American, something she said not all undocumented immigrants can do to become a legal citizen. Her suggestion to the government, she said, is to create easier steps for undocumented citizens to prove that they are not criminals and that immigrants are not just entering the country to feed off government handouts.

Aguilar, who came to America 20 years ago from El Salvador as an undocumented immigrant, said she is disappointed that she still has temporary status protection. She pays the government $700 every 18 months to keep that status, and she is not an American citizen.

“We are helping the economy here,” Aguilar said. “We can’t open a business in El Salvador. They just kill people. Gangs manage the place.”

A day of protest: Harvey and Aguilar planned to join other activists after they assembled Monday in front of state Sen. Scott Wagner’s  office on George Street in York City. A  dozen people chanted and walked in front of the Spring Garden Township Republican's office, speaking in Spanish and airing their grievances. Their plans were  to then go to Harrisburg to take part in the statewide rally.

Tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies rallied Monday in major cities, including New York, Chicago and Seattle. Demonstrations also were expected in dozens of smaller cities from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Portland, Oregon.

Elizabeth Alex, regional director of CASA,  said York is a “welcoming city,” something Mayor Kim Bracey declared shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

York City cited as 'welcoming community'

“Many undocumented immigrants are farmers,” Alex said. “I would think as a business owner, (Wagner) would recognize the dissonance between the workforce and the community. We should be working together.”

According to CASA, “Immigrants strengthen our economy by creating millions of jobs every year and running almost a fifth of the small businesses across America. But the Trump administration refuses to back down from their cruel and unworkable policies, even after courts have refused to allow the Trump administration to implement three different policies. Furthermore, taxpayers already spend more money on immigration enforcement than enforcing on all other laws combined.”

Wagner did not respond to a request for comment. His York office said he was traveling.

Mirna Gonzales of York City, speaks as a group of immigrants and advocates protest in front of Senator Scott Wagner's office to denounce his hard line position against immigrants, Monday, May 1, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Alex and other state immigration advocates are concerned about PA Senate Bill 10, which requires municipalities to honor protocol when an illegal immigrant is detained, which includes arrests and contacting federal officials.

Under Senate Bill 10, any local agency, municipality or county that refuses to enforce the law will not be eligible for state grants for law enforcement, including purchases of equipment or vehicles for law enforcement, or be eligible to participate in the sale of state surplus property.

Historic day of advocacy: While union members traditionally march  May 1 for workers' rights around the world, the day has become a rallying point for immigrants in the U.S. since massive demonstrations were held on the date in 2006 against a proposed immigration-enforcement bill.

Protesters hold up a sign as they block a driveway at the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services building in San Francisco, Monday, May 1, 2017. Immigrant and union groups will march in cities across the United States on Monday, May 1, 2017, to mark May Day and protest against President Donald Trump's efforts to boost deportations. The day has become a rallying point for immigrants in the U.S. since demonstrations were held in 2006 against a proposed immigration enforcement bill. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

In recent years, immigrant rights protests shrank as groups diverged and shifted their focus on voter registration and lobbying. Larger crowds were expected to return this year as immigrant groups have joined with Muslim organizations, women's advocates and others in their united opposition to Trump's policies.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.