US immigrant workers demand protection in May Day demonstration

US immigrant workers demand protection in May Day demonstration
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
02 May, 2023
Immigrant workers in the US, many of whom have long endured grueling working conditions, particularly during the pandemic, are demanding the Biden administration grant them Temporary Protected Status.
Immigrants and advocates gathered near the White House to demand protection. [Brooke Anderson/The New Arab]

In an annual May Day demonstration near the White House, US immigrant workers from Latin America demanded that US President Joe Biden grant them Temporary Protected Status.

The gathering at Lafayette Square on Monday drew around a thousand, mainly representing Mexican and Central American countries, as they waved the US and their national flags.

"Together, we are educating, rallying and organising, and demand that President Biden grant us TPS," Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, an immigrant from Panama, who works as chief of organising and leadership with the immigrant rights group CASA, told the crowd. 

She was opening a series of speeches from immigrant activists and workers, going back and forth between English and Spanish for the largely Spanish-speaking gathering. 

The speakers focused on TPS, the protective status given to immigrants from countries in crisis, wherein it would be too dangerous for them to return. After Mexico, the main source of immigration to the US is Central America, where many people continue to flee dangerous environments, often only to end up working in exploitative conditions in the US.

Jaime Contreras, executive vice president for 32 BJ SEIU, the largest union representing immigrant workers in the US, took to the stage and got straight to his point.

"For me, this is personal. I was also brought here undocumented at the age of 13 when I was only a kid in 1988, fleeing the civil war in El Salvador so that I didn't die," he said, noting that the union represents 63 countries with members speaking 28 languages. 

"Many, I'm talking about thousands of those members and their families, are people from Central America and all over the world. They are the ones that clean the commercial office buildings, the city buildings, the federal buildings."

Live Story

"We're here to send a clear message from 32 BJ SEIU to President Biden: We want TPS." 
He added that he wanted Biden to remember: "Who was the wind at his back when he got elected, and who's going to be the wind at his back this time around because he just announced he's gonna run again? If he wants our support, we want TPS," he continued.

His remarks were followed by multiple stories of Central American immigrant workers adversely affected by US policy. Some have seen close family deported or have lived in fear of deportation themselves. All are hoping that the Biden administration giving them TPS designation will give them basic protections.

It is unclear how immigration will play out in Biden's re-election campaign. Though undocumented immigrants can't vote, many of their family members do, and immigration policy will likely be one of their top concerns in the next general election.

Unlike some other Democrats who have run for president in recent years, such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Biden does not enjoy deep support among Hispanics, meaning he cannot assume he has their votes. 

Live Story

"Although Biden won the Hispanic vote in 2020, he performed worse than other recent Democratic nominees," J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told The New Arab.

"There were complaints that his campaign's Hispanic outreach operation was less-than-ideal - going forward, it's something they may have to pay more attention to. Basically, every swingy state in the Sun Belt - Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina - has a Hispanic bloc that Democrats cannot take for granted."