“We’ve got each other’s back”: San Jose residents march for immigrants
Henry Millstein/PW

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A crowd of people of different ethnicities and faiths stood together with the mayor and a city councilperson of San Jose to declare their readiness to act in solidarity with immigrant communities threatened by the Trump Administration. “We have each other’s backs,” San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo declared at a press conference capping a day of action to resist Trump’s ramping up of deportations.

The day was Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian year: Holy Week commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday and culminates with the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. And so the day’s events began at the San Jose State University Newman Center, home of the campus Catholic ministry, with the first part of a mass led by Fr. Jon Pedigo, a well-known local activist priest who is Director of Projects for Peace and Justice for the Catholic Diocese of San Jose. Pedigo gave a brief but hard-hitting homily explaining that Jesus’ death came about not because of any religious conflict, but because the dominant powers in ancient Palestine, then under the imperial domination of Rome, saw Jesus as a threat and manipulated existing prejudices between different sectors of the Jewish people to secure his condemnation and execution. He pointed out that these events, commemorated during Holy Week, warn us today that poor and working people need to unite to keep themselves from being manipulated in a similar way by right-wing forces that aim to divide them and so keep them powerless.

After the service, Imam Aladdin El-Bakri of the mosque in Saratoga, California, responding to the terrorist attacks on two churches in Egypt, described how while growing up in Jordan Muslims and Christians in his community lived peacefully together, pointing out that over some 1400 years churches and synagogues in the Muslim world had never been attacked as the two Egyptian churches had been. “This does not represent us,” he said, and warning the audience against those who would attempt to manipulate responses to these events by stirring up hatred against all Muslims, he declared, “I stand with you and with immigrants and with any issue you stand up for.”

The group then processed almost four miles to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in predominantly Latino East San Jose for the continuation of the mass and a press conference attended by religious leaders and activists in addition to the mayor and councilperson.

Leaders of the Catholic, Muslim, and Sikh communities spoke at the press conference, pledging their active support for immigrants and their commitment to fighting Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. Fr. Pedigo announced a pastoral plan for immigrants by the Catholic Diocese of San Jose, offering both material aid and legal assistance to families and individuals facing deportation. A representative of PACT (People Acting in Community Together), a multi-faith organization that mobilizes congregations fighting for social justice, announced the formation of the PACT Solidarity Network that has already brought together 70 churches and other faith communities to support immigrants, including offering them sanctuary from attempts to deport them. PACT is sponsoring a series of rapid response trainings, building a network of volunteers who will video and document ICE raids in the area, bringing to public attention the human costs of Trump’s rhetoric and policies.

After Mayor Liccardo spoke on the city’s unity in supporting all its residents, including undocumented immigrants, Sylvia Arenas, recently elected to the San Jose City Council with the support of the South Bay Labor Council, speaking in both English and Spanish, described herself as “the proud product of immigration” and declared, “We are not a drain on this system—we are not a disposable work force.” She pointed out that the Mayor and Council made “an iron-clad commitment” to the immigrant community that police and other city officials would not participate in any aspect of deportations: “Our police will serve our community, not ICE, not the President.” She called on those present to continue their activism, saying, “It’s your voice that will move us forward.”

The event concluded with the blessing of a huge banner on the façade of Holy Trinity Church that announces “Refugees and Immigrants Welcome.” Fr. Robert Fambrini, pastor of the church, evoked Martin Luther King, saying “There come times when silence is betrayal.” The events of the day made clear that there are many in San Jose of all backgrounds who will not keep silent in the face of the daily injustices against immigrants and others perpetrated by the current regime in Washington.


Henry Millstein
Henry Millstein

Hank Millstein is a long-time peace and labor activist. He's a fiction writer and journalist and a member of the National Writers Union.