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Originally published Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 9:28 PM

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May Day marchers to protest outside Wells Fargo downtown

Organizers of this year's May Day march are planning an end-of-the-route rally outside Wells Fargo, which some immigrant advocacy groups have accused of profiting from immigrant detention.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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This week's May Day march through the streets of Seattle will end not at Seattle Center or Westlake as in years past, but at Wells Fargo's main downtown branch, to protest what organizers say is the bank's courting of immigrant customers while also offering investments in jails that detain them.

Marchers in other cities also plan protests outside Wells Fargo branches.

In recent years, a growing number of immigrant advocacy, labor and Occupy groups have called on Wells Fargo and other lenders to distance themselves from companies that profit from immigrant detention — including GEO Group, which owns and operates the Tacoma Detention Center.

They also accuse Wells Fargo of investing in the campaigns of politicians who sponsor anti-immigrant legislation.

"Either way, immigrants end up making money for them," said Jorge Quiroga, an organizer with El Comité Pro Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social, which plans the May Day march and protest.

Wells Fargo said these groups are misdirected in their argument — that it offers customers mutual funds that invest in GEO Group bundled together with hundreds of other companies.

Seattle-based spokeswoman Lara Underhill points out that the bank does not directly invest its own money in the fund — rather, it invests customers' money.

Wells Fargo was one of the earliest banks to accept the Mexican ID card, the matricula consular, as a form of identification as well as the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in the place of Social Security numbers for those who wanted to open accounts but lacked necessary documents.

"We understand the seriousness of this ongoing debate around immigration," Underhill said. "It's not our business to make decisions about prison services or how immigration is handled."

She also said the bank has a political-action committee that invests in politicians and campaigns "across the political spectrum."

Mayor Mike McGinn's office Friday issued a statement noting that several groups would be holding demonstrations Tuesday, including this one, an Occupy Seattle-sponsored general strike and rallies throughout the day at Westlake Park.

And, according to the statement, city officials have "evidence that other people may be coming to Seattle" intending to disrupt peaceful protests and commit violence and property damage.

El Comité issued its own statement Sunday emphasizing the two separate events — one by Occupy Seattle at Westlake, and later in the day, the march by El Comité, leaving from St. Mary's Church.

The statement says: "We are working with members of Occupy Seattle to make each of our events both safe and effective." And, the statement added, the committee asks "any individual or entity to immediately cease any attempt to subvert and dismantle the work that we have undertaken for over 12 years."

In terms of immigration law, this year's May Day march finds the U.S. in the same place it was six years ago when the marches began.

In that time, however, several states, including Arizona, Georgia and Alabama, have enacted laws targeting illegal immigrants. And with a weakened economy, sentiment over illegal immigrants has grown more vitriolic.

Quiroga said the march is intended to remind politicians — Democrats and Republicans — that "we are still here and we have no plans to self-deport."

Craig Keller, spokesman for a local group that supports immigration enforcement, said the government needs to making putting Americans to work its priority.

El Comité is planning May Day protests at several Wells Fargo locations across Seattle, although the main branch at 999 Third Ave., will be the site of the day's rally.

The march, which follows a 3:30 p.m. rally at Judkins Park in the Central Area, will leave the church at 5 p.m. and head downtown. After stopping briefly at the Hilton Seattle on Sixth Avenue in support of a worker dispute there, marchers will proceed to the Second Avenue entrance of Wells Fargo, across from the Federal Building.

The rally is to start about the time the branch closes.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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