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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Church Sleeps Over Against Arizona Law

An Arizona law authorizing police officers to detain those suspected of illegal immigration has created an uproar among residents in Queens. Set to be enforced in August, the law inspired a series of gatherings throughout the borough Saturday, with demonstrators prepared to show politicians here that a law like it would not be tolerated in the city.

People from Queens Congregations United for Action gathered at member church St. Leo’s in Corona to hold their first-ever night of prayer and action in wake of the Arizona law.

“We went to the march in Washington earlier this year and this inspired our program,” said Pastor William Hoppe. “Then when we learned about the reforms in Arizona we knew we had to do something to raise consciousness.”

Cristina, an undocumented immigrant from Paraguay who has been attending St. Leos for many years, said she hopes the all night vigil would lead lawmakers to make positive immigration reforms. “Life is already hard when you do not have the papers, now this law can make people feel like a criminal.”

“We are expecting a lot of people to come to hear our stories tonight and it’s best we [stay] together during this time of worry and unhappiness,” Cristina said.

The weekend event included testimony from illegal immigrants and native-born children of illegal immigrants as well as cultural performances. In the morning, breakfast was followed by a march around the block with churchgoers and other residents.

“Only God can give us the inspiration to stay up all night,” said Alma, one of the organizers of the event. “I do this for all the [undocumented] immigrants even those in Arizona, they need our help for a change.”

Alma said she migrated from Mexico 18 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She cleans houses and offices while babysitting in order to support her family here and those she left behind in Mexico.

“I love being in New York, it’s free, I can go wherever I want and the cops do not bother me,” she said. “If this law ever comes here, I would live in fear and would be too scared to go anywhere except to my country.” For Arizona lawmakers, reducing illegal immigration is the point of the law.

In Jackson Heights, community members organized by Make the Road New York marched down Roosevelt Avenue in protest of the Arizona legislation. Another group assembled along 35th Avenue at the Community Church as early as 9:30 a.m., in anticipation of joining a larger crowd in Foley Square in downtown Manhattan.

“I think that the one thing that was great about this protest is there were a lot of African immigrants, Latinos, Middle Eastern and South Asians who came out,” said Amy Sugimori, director of the New York civic participation project of the Jackson Heights gathering. “Historically May 1 was always known as an immigrant worker day so it is definitely a good day to have their voices heard,” Sugimori said.

The Arizona law is sponsored by Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) whose son, a sherrif’s deputy, was shot and wounded by an illegal immigrant. The law allows police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people whom they reasonably believe are in the country without legal authorization and to verify their status with federal officials if necessary.

It also makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers at all times. In addition, the law allows residents to prosecute local or state government agencies if they suspect that federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.

While people across the nation continue to oppose the controversial law, some believe that these new changes will help restore the economy to its natural state.

“Slowly I see the United States taking control of illegal immigration,” said Susan, who did not want her last name revealed. “At least some jobs will be given back to the Americans — you know the people that are born here.”

Though illegal immigration is a polarizing issue, politicians continue to band together to show their disdain for the Arizona policy.

“Our immigration laws are broken — hurting our businesses and cities,” Mayor Mike Bloomberg said in a statement. However, for Bloomberg, the Arizona law is not a solution. “If more states begin to follow Arizona’s misguided new law, our national economy will pay a heavy price,” the mayor said.

The cost of enforcing a law like the one in Arizona would be astronomical and the loss of illegal workers who are often willing to work for less than minimum wage would hurt the many New York businesses that employ them illegally. Still, according to Comptroller John Liu, the heart of the matter is not monetary, but legal.

“It’s simply unconstitutional, unacceptable, and un-American,” said Liu, who was also present at the rally on Saturday in Manhattan. “New York City and indeed our country was built by immigrants,” he added.

At St. Leo’s Church 14-year-old Dianna Avellaned chose to lend a helping hand at the all-night vigil rather than go out with her friends to enjoy the gorgeous sunny afternoon.

“My parents are undocumented and I always have this part of me that worries that they can be taken away,” she said. “I don’t think I can ever live without them — it’s just all so unfair,” she said.