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Know Your Rights
Source: Latin Week NY
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Immigrants Greet Homeland Security Chief With Protests

NEW YORK – Immigrants and activists on Wednesday welcomed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano with protests for continuing the policy of raids and deportations that characterized the Bush administration.

With signs saying “We need real reform” and “Reforms not raids,” the group – most of whom were Hispanic – gathered early in the morning at the Council of Foreign Relations, where Napolitano was to be the main speaker at an event.

The demonstrators said that the administration of President Barack Obama has continued the anti-immigrant policy that marked the Bush presidency and they mentioned the expansion of Program 287(g).

In place since 1996, the regulation allows local governments to sign agreements with the federal government to train police or sheriff’s deputies to find undocumented foreigners, though many police chiefs have said they were against the initiative.

At the beginning of July, Napolitano made public a list of 11 jurisdictions where 287(g) would be expanded, including two in New Jersey.

“Immigrant communities that helped to elect President Obama strongly believed that there would be reforms,” Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said at Wednesday’s protest.

“Now, there is a creeping sense of betrayal and questioning about why the administration would wholeheartedly embrace and expand some of the most counterproductive and ineffectual immigration enforcement policies of the Bush era,” she said.

She said that the people most affected by these policies are the immigrants that the president said should be the beneficiaries of comprehensive immigration reform.

“There is a huge disconnect and contradiction between what the president is saying and what Secretary Napolitano is doing,” Hong said.

Also on hand for the protest were New York Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents some Hispanic neighborhoods in Manhattan and the Bronx, and representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and several pro-immigrant organizations.

Angel Gutama, of the New York chapter of the group Make the Road By Walking, said that Obama and other politicians promised immigration reform during the election campaign.

“That’s what we want and that’s what we’ve come to ask for. We want to tell the president that we immigrants are humans just like Americans, that we come to work hard to try and get our families ahead and progress in this country,” he said.

“We want to tell the president that we Latinos gave him our support to get into power and now we don’t want him to forget us, and for him to help us,” Gutama said.

Rubiela Arias, who 10 years emigrated from Medellin, Colombia, feels unprotected by the government after having worked hard to clean Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Arias, who has a 17-year-old son, now suffers from gastrointestinal and respiratory problems and has been unemployed for eight months.

The Colombian woman, who attended the protest with other Ground Zero workers, is on the verge of losing the apartment she shares with her son.

“My message to Obama is that we want reform and justice for the Ground Zero workers because we’re abandoned, we’re practically living like indigents, while we were useful at that time,” she told Efe.

Isabel, a legal Ecuadorian resident who also performed clean-up work after Sept. 11 and now is unemployed, said that “we’re the forgotten ones of Ground Zero. When the work had to be done, nobody asked us for (residence) papers.”