NEW YORK (Reuters) - Labour unions and civil rights groups held May Day rallies across the United States on Monday, challenging President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and his vow to step up deportations of those who entered the country illegally.
Activists said they were seeking to amass the largest crowds to have yet turned out for U.S. immigrant rights demonstrations since Trump took office on Jan. 20.
A crowd reported by local media to number in the thousands gathered at MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles for what organizers called a show of “resistance, unity and defiance” before a planned march across town to City Hall.
Earlier in the day, 500 protesters marched through midtown Manhattan and rallied in front of offices of Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Twelve were arrested, according to a spokesman for Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group that claims 20,000 members.
The two banks were targeted because of their dealings with private companies that have built or manage some immigrant detention centres for the government, according to Jose Lopez, Make the Road New York’s co-director of organising.
“The messaging for today was to stop to financing immigrant detention facilities,” said Lopez. “This is going to be the first of many attacks against these corporations who, until they stop working with this administration, will continue to be on our target list.”
May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, has typically been a quieter affair in the United States than in Europe, where it is a public holiday in many countries.
May Day unrest flared on Monday in France and Turkey, where demonstrators clashed with police.
At least three French officers were injured in Paris when protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and other projectiles at law enforcement. Meanwhile, police in Instanbul fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a rally there as authorities detained more than 150 people in protests around that city.
The Paris rally came days ahead of the final round of a presidential election pitting far-right politician Marine Le Pen against centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. Tensions in Turkey have remained high since President Tayyip Edogan narrowly won a referendum last month giving him sweeping new powers.
The U.S. protests focussed on Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration as he presses police agencies around the country to assist federal efforts at rounding up individuals sought for deportation and threatens to withhold federal dollars for cities that do not cooperate, which have been dubbed “sanctuary cities.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also stirred an outcry by saying last month that so-called “dreamers” - illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children and were granted protection under the Obama administration - were subject to deportation.
Sessions later walked back his statement, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has said dreamers were not being targeted, though some have ended up detained in roundups of immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
New York City’s biggest rally was planned for the early evening, when organizers expected thousands to gather in downtown Manhattan’s Foley Square for musical performances and speeches by union leaders and immigrants living in the country illegally.
Precautions were in place in Seattle, where officials were on the lookout for incendiary devices and gun-carrying protesters after a January shooting outside a political event and an incident during May Day 2016 in which a protester tossed an unlit Molotov cocktail at police.
Some Trump supporters said they would also turn out on May Day. Activist Joey Gibson said he and other conservatives would travel to Seattle to defend against what he described as communist and anti-fascist groups who have in the past faced off with police in the evening, after the conclusion of the usually peaceful daytime marches.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York; additional reporting by Tom James in Seattle; editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis