Immigration fears for Cinco de Mayo fest downplayed

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — What was supposed to be a celebration on Cinco de Mayo silently turned into a fear of immigration last year, during President Donald Trump’s first year in office.

That was last year. This year, the southwest Detroit community said while fear of deportations lingers, they will not shy away from celebrating the annual observance of the Mexican army’s win over the French in the Battle of Puebla.

The 54th annual Cinco de Mayo parade and festival planned for Sunday will draw thousands to Vernor and Patton Park. The 2.5-mile parade leads crowds to Clark Park for the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta and Mercado.

Alicia Juarez, event chairwoman of the Mexican Patriotic Committee, said she won’t worry about immigration agents circulating at the event. But she understands the doubts of some who don’t have their citizenship yet.

Last year, Mayor Mike Duggan told the community that he had been promised that ICE agents would not disrupt the parade. This year, Juarez said, Detroit police officers will provide security and she doesn’t “anticipate any issues.”

“ ... There is and will probably always be this fear of people who are waiting to get their citizenship and worried of being deported by attending a public event. So I tell them to blend in and don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself.”

Detroit police Cmdr. Whitney Walton said the event is unique and important to the Detroit Police Department’s 4th precinct in the city’s southwest each year. The officers, she said, “do nothing with immigration. Our focus is simply on safety.”

“There’s going to be tons of officers mounted and on the ground,” said Walton. “It will be extremely safe.”

ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said ICE agents will not be at the parade since it is considered a “sensitive location,” which includes schools, hospitals, places of worship, religious ceremonies or public demonstrations.

“ICE’s enforcements actions are targeted and lead-driven,” Walls said. “ICE does not conduct raids or sweeps that target aliens indiscriminately.”

Many parade goers will have messages of their own to amplify beyond the immediate fear of deportation.

Jose Franco, founder of One Michigan for Immigrant Rights, an advocacy organization for immigration issues, said people are more comfortable and motivated this year to fight for issues such as electing more candidates into office who care about immigration.

“Last year was the first year Trump was in office, but it’s not as intense this year,” said Franco. “People (still) are scared because deportations are happening, border patrol is targeting neighborhoods in southwest and lately, they’re going into the smaller, dense neighborhoods.”

Trump wants to curtail legal immigration and has been cracking down broadly on illegal immigration. On Friday, his administration said it was ending special immigration protections for about 57,000 Hondurans, adding them to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from other countries battered by violence and natural disasters who are losing permission to be in the United States.

Last year, Franco, 30, was among several supporters who wore shirts that said, “Do I look illegal?” and held a banner that said, “Undocumented, Unafraid, Unapologetic.” He said despite immigration issues still a concern, people will be celebrating Sunday and advocating for office candidates.

“I doubt (fear of agents) will discourage people from coming,” he said. “More will definitely come than last year, especially to support people running for office like Samantha Magdaleno, running for state rep in District 6. She’ll be a strong champion on immigration in Lansing so me and my team are focused on elevating her.”

The parade begins at noon. More than 50 local organizations and businesses will participate, and the Fiesta, with performances, will follow from 2-6 p.m.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_