This year, May Day events aimed at drawing attention to immigration reform weren’t just taking place in the state’s largest cities. Advocates in New Mexico’s smaller towns organized their own marches and vigils.
Using an aggressive push in social media and new text message alert systems, advocates said smaller rural areas such as Lovington and Gallup are seeing more immigrants organizing over hopes that this year they can see an immigration reform measure pass in Congress.
They’ve also been pushed to become more vocal after debates over the state law that allows immigrants who are in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, advocates say.
“From oil and gas workers in southeastern New Mexico to workers on dairy farms, people are getting excited,” said Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based advocacy group. “State lawmakers also forced us to get organized.”
Since New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez took office in 2011, the nation’s only Latina governor, a Republican, has sought repeatedly to repeal the immigrant driver’s license law over fraud concerns.
Those efforts sparked Somos Un Pueblo Unido and the Albuquerque-based group El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos to hold town hall meetings and workshops across the state to successfully block all repeal attempts.
Rachel LaZar, executive director of El Centro, said concerns of a possible repeal helped get immigrants in smaller towns involved and is now aiding advocates as efforts shift toward pushing for federal reforms.
“Immigrants are no longer afraid to take photos in front on a sign that says ‘Keep New Mexico Families Together,’ which are sent to lawmakers,” said LaZar. “People are energized and want to be accepted.”
Somos Un Pueblo Unido scheduled a May Day rally in Santa Fe and a prayer vigil in Gallup to call on Congress to pass a “common sense immigration reform.” In Albuquerque, El Centro organized a march and interfaith prayer service at a park and a march through Old Town Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, a coalition of advocates and religious leaders in Las Cruces put together a community prayer meeting aimed at pushing lawmakers to support a federal immigration overhaul.
Despite the energy and excitement around the possibility of federal legislation that could give some immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship, LaZar said immigrants believe they must keep up the pressure on lawmakers.
“We’ve arrived at this historic movement,” she said. “But more work needs to be done.”