People participate in a May Day protest march in Los Angeles
By Chris Francescani and Alex Dobuzinskis
NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Labour unions and civil rights groups staged 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.
Thousands gathered at MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles for what organizers called a show of "resistance, unity and defiance," then set off on a boisterous but peaceful march across town to City Hall.
A crowd of several thousand also assembled in Washington's Dupont Circle for a rally ahead of a planned procession to Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House.
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 financing immigrant detention facilities," Lopez said.
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.
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.
Retired social worker Christina Reilly Vaccarino, 78, who emigrated from Ireland at age 15 with a green card allowing her to work as a nanny, said she was “disgusted” by Trump's policies on immigration, taxes and workers’ rights.
“I came to America at a time when everyone in Ireland believed that America is so wonderful, so great. And now, after all these years, to experience this? It’s not America anymore," she said at an afternoon rally in Lower Manhattan.
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.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington and Tom James in Seattle; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Mary Milliken)