Hundreds of people marched through Fontana streets on May 1 as part of the May Day international workers movement to demand respect for immigrants' rights.
Coordinated by the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ), together with national organizations, unions and clerical groups, the rally attracted people who wanted to address a variety of issues.
Organizers said they chose Fontana because it is a city where they claimed “sentiments of discrimination still continue to persist.” Organizers also added that Fontana has demonstrated “anti-immigrant” behavior and “continues to promote polices that hinder low income communities."
“If the challenges are wide ranging and systemic, change will come by demanding better policy, demanding better leadership, and working with our neighbors,” said Bobbi Jo Chavarria, a Fontana resident and longtime community organizer.
Javier Hernandez, who represents ICIJ, said that what angered the immigrant community the most was that Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren has been affiliated with a president who has been demonstrated to be anti-immigrant. Donald Trump’s policies have put basic human rights at risk, Hernandez said.
Warren, who attended an infrastructure summit hosted by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House last year, released a statement in response to the rally.
“The City of Fontana celebrates the cultural diversity that makes this community one of the premier cities in the Inland Empire to live, work and play," Warren said. "We respect the rights of those participating in the May Day March in observance of the International Day of Labor. Here in Fontana, job creation, education, public safety and economic development are my top priorities. It is our mission to invest in and provide economic opportunities for the community and maintain the highest level of public safety. As the first female and African American Mayor of Fontana, two roles that one could only dream about 50 years ago, I am immensely proud to live in a city that welcomes diverse backgrounds and is continuously evolving to meet the needs of our community.”
Hernandez said that Fontana is one of a dozen municipalities that uses police manuals crafted by Lexipol, an Irvine-based company that has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights for its poor policy advice.
In that manual, Hernandez claimed there is a policy that allows police to criminalize people for the simple reason that they don’t speak English, a policy that encourages racial profiling.
“We’ve sent them letters, asking that they change the policy,” said Hernandez. “They have yet to respond to our demands. A 'lack of English proficiency’ is not a good reason to criminalize immigrants."
Fontana Police Public Information Officer Kevin Goltara said that there is no code in the State of California that allows officers to arrest or detain persons just because they don’t speak English. Goltara said that when a person is stopped and does not speak fluent English, the department does what is necessary to engage in communication.
“If it is a simple stop, we can call an officer who speaks Spanish," Goltara said.
If police need a statement from somebody who speaks another language, Mandarin for example, the department can hire professional services, Goltara said.
"I also don’t know of any letter asking us to change our policy. By the way, we don’t do immigration work,” said Goltara.
Organizers of the march also urged the city to fully implement SB 54, also known as the state's sanctuary law. In recent weeks, several cities have opted to either join a lawsuit against SB 54 or to show support via an amicus brief.
SB 54 was drafted by State Sen. Kevin de Leon and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown to protect undocumented residents, including "Dreamers" and their families, from Trump’s immigration policies. SB 54 limits the cooperation of police with immigration authorities. The Fontana City Council has not taken a position for or against SB 54.
Some protesters said they were upset about a decision made by the Fontana Unified School District. In 2013, the FUSD School Police Department purchased 14 AR-15 semi-automatic rifles in order to “protect students.” According to police, the rifles were stored in a safe place and will only be used in case of an attack.
Marcus Garcia, a Fontana High School graduate and current University of Redlands student, said that the militarization of school police demonstrates that city leaders don’t care about the community.
“What do we care about more? The city, money, or revenue. Or do we care about the people? At some point city leaders must answer that,” said Garcia.