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Immigration activists welcome Obama; call for raid-halts, reform, and equal rights

By Arooj Ashraf, LaPrensa Correspondent  

Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2009: The sun shone brightly on U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama’s first official day in office on Jan.  21, 2009, as  immigration reform activists marched 800 strong in front of the Immigration & Custom Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Southwest Washington.

The participants demanded Obama end raids against the 12 million undocumented immigrants and pass a solution that would grant a path to citizenship or at least provide work authorization for non-criminals.

The rally was organized by Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), Casa de Maryland, National Capital Immigrant Coalition, and many others.

Chanting “Sí se puede!” and “Redadas no, la reforma sí”, wearing yellow ‘I am Immigrant American’ shirts, they gathered from all across the nation—Florida to California to Nebraska—to remind Pres. Obama to keep true to his election promises and provide a humane solution to the immigration problem.

Their songs and drum beats caught the attention of motorists in passing vehicles, honking their horns in support; many looked out their windows and waved. And construction workers stopped and cheered.

“We want fair immigration; stop separating families, kids from their mothers and fathers,” said Sisis Aleman, a U.S. citizen born in El Salvador. Aleman would like Pres. Obama to think of his daughters and imagine what the children traumatized by raids go through.

Aleman said many undocumented immigrations are terrified to return to El Salvador because gang members from Mara Salvatrucha exploit them for money.

Religious leaders performed cleansing rituals by reading scriptures from the Bible, Torah, and Quran, calling the positive sprits of magnificent leaders like César E. Chávez, Martin Luther King, and many others, to cleanse the negativity and repressive policies of the outgoing George W. Bush Administration.

They tumbled a symbolic card-box wall, calling for the new administration to build bridges instead.  “While we in the religious community have been trying to build bridges, the Bush administration was busy raising a wall; let’s trample this symbol of inequality and ring in a new era of justice and equality for all people,” said Reverend Whit Hutchison, New Sanctuary Movement.

 Problems with the immigration system are as diverse as the people it affects. Many of the 12 million undocumented entered the United States with valid work authorizations or visitor visas but may have extended their stay. Many more applied for naturalization but their cases remain unprocessed due to an eight-year backlog in the Department of Labor.

“There has to be a way for the administration to resolve the problems without forcing people to return to their country of origin before being granted legal status,” said José A. Rodríguez, also from Guatemala, who has been a citizen for 38 years. Rodríguez said any measure that requires people to leave will fail as families will be separated, jobs will have to be abandoned, and there is no guarantee of return.

 “We now have a president who’s an ally of the immigrant,” said Reverend Doctor Frederick Hancock, leader of the Partnership for Renewal in Southern and Central Maryland and reminded Obama he is the son of a n African man, stepson of an Indonesian man, and the son of a white woman. He prayed Pres. Obama’s speech of justice and equality for all will translate into action.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malick
, of Dal Al Hijrah Islamic Center of Northern Virginia, said Obama’s executive order to close down Guantánamo Bay and extradition/rendition camps is an indication he can stop ICE from conducting raids and deporting immigrants without due process.

He cautioned having a bi-racial Commander-in-Chief is not the end of inequality and prejudices in the U.S. “If your name is Mohammed, you will still be targeted; if your name is José, you will still be sent to the back of the line,” he said.

Gustavo Torres, Co-Chair of National Capital Immigrant Coalition and U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL),
Juan Salgado, Executive Director of the Institututo de Progreso Latino, Eun Sook Lee and other organizers.

The rally convened at Westminster Presbyterian Church where those affected by the raids shared their trauma, hardship, and struggles. “They shattered my door and windows and came in with their guns pointing at children and women and shouting, and shoving people,” said one.

He carried his book of rights and asked for a warrant, a lawyer and the right to remain silent until provided. “They told me, ‘You have no rights’, they kept me in a closed room for hours and told me that until I believed it.” He said immigrant communities need to be educated on their rights.

Dream Act
Teenagers from California came to the rally to Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM ACT). Daisy Martínez moved to the U.S. at the age of two and is afraid if the Act does not pass she will not have access to higher education, “We have dreams too, and hopes, and we have a right to work towards them,” she said tears swelling in her eyes.

Martínez is a member of One Dream 2009, a youth movement seeking 15 million signatures to bring the 5 million undocumented students out of the shadows. “We are talented and ambitious and hard working; it is a mistake not to give us the access and the opportunity to improve this country, our country,” she said.

The organization is raising money to spread awareness by selling Human ID cards for $5.50. The card identifies the supporters of Dream Act as part of the human puzzle.

The testimonials were recorded and given to U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), who will deliver them to Pres. Obama’s administration with the demand for the immediate moratorium on raids.

Gutiérrez said the president is a strong proponent of immigration reform but the challenges he has inherited are severe; stabilizing the economy may take the whole year and, after that, many will try to deter him from acting.

“We are tired of undelivered promises; you cannot say you are for just reform then turn around and deport them before they can,” he said. Gutiérrez emphasized the power of numbers and encouraged the community to band together and keep pressure on the administration to act. “In my sixteen years, the only issues that have passed are those that are backed by the public,” he said.

Gutiérrez emphasized the distinction between deporting criminals and hardworking people. “Please send the gang bangers, violent criminals back—we don’t want them here... but please leave that poor frightened lady alone, who gets up early every morning to clean windows, or the man who works to the wee hours to provide for his family,” he said.

Gutiérrez said the momentum needs to be kept up, more rallies and marches must be organized all over the country, more places of worship need to fill and broadcast their demand for change.

Tram Nguyen, a member of Tenants & Workers United in Virginia said grass root efforts flipped the election. The group registered 50,000 first time immigrant voters by going door-to-door and the 70 percent voter turnout flipped the stubbornly red states blue.

She said the same efforts need to be replicated in states and these voters need to be vigilant in all elections to make their voices count. “We want to transform our society so that workers don’t fear raids, families stay together, and no one lives in the shadows.

Our ideas and values will get our nation back on track and make America work for all of us,” said Jon Liss, executive director of Tenants & Workers United.

FIRM kicked off a text-messaging campaign, enlisting thousands at the inaugural festivities to join the fight by texting “justicia” or “justice” to 69866. The organization will send alerts and mobilize supporters to call, email Congress and push for just and humane immigration legislation reform in 2009.

“This impacts all of us; those who are citizen especially need to speak out and support our brothers and sisters stuck in limbo,” said Aleman.

The day ended with higher enthusiasm than it had begun, with cries of “Si se puede” echoing louder than ever.

For more information visit: http://fairimmigration.wordpress.com and http://ncicmetro.org/html/endorse.html



Rev. Whit Hutchison, New Sanctuary Movement and Indigenous rights supporter Margarito Esquino





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