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Beyond Borders

A blog about immigration in the New York region

Immigration reform campaign returns to streets — But Congress?


The immigration reform campaign has returned to the streets — but is it returning to Congress?

Any timetable for an immigration bill remains as uncertain as ever. New York Sen. Charles Schumer seems to have failed to find a Republican co-sponsor for a comprehensive bill after Sen. Lindsey Graham’s change of stance. In the meantime, Schumer has released a “structure” for reform. He is asking Arizona to delay its new law, giving police far-reaching powers to ask for immigration IDs, for a year.

Locally, the Arizona law continues to inspire demonstrations against racial profiling. The Rockland Immigration Coalition is planning a “We Are Arizona” rally May 16 in Spring Valley. Here are photos from the May 1 rally in Peekskill outside Schumer’s office. Read on for my story about the reaction to Arizona’s SB 1070.

(Photos: Frank Becerra Jr. / The Journal News)

April 27, 2010

Leah Rae

Arizona’s controversial new immigration law is already having an impact, if only to bring more calls for a congressional overhaul of the system.

Demonstrators are planning a Saturday rally near the Peekskill office of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to press for a comprehensive immigration bill. A weekend vigil in White Plains opposed Arizona’s measure, which gives police officers broad power to question and detain people they suspect of being in the country illegally.

The law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday, makes it a crime to not carry immigration papers in Arizona.

“We just thought it was really important that we just stand up in solidarity with Arizona,” said Indhira Arizmendi of White Plains, who organized the vigil at the federal courthouse.

“The failure of the federal government to act is really what’s causing this — for states to go out and want to enact their own laws,” she said. “It builds pressure for Congress to actually do something, as opposed to keep on pushing it off.”

Arizona will face legal challenges to implementing SB 1070, given the concerns about racial profiling and pre-emption of federal law.

“Immigration is something that is controlled by the national government, as it is in every other part of the world,” said Cesar Perales of the civil rights group Latino Justice PRLDEF, based in New York.

The Arizona law makes even legal immigrants subject to misdemeanor arrest if they do not carry their permanent resident cards, or “green cards” — something absent in federal law. It does not spell out what would constitute reasonable suspicion of illegal status.

“I don’t think this law makes sense on a number of levels, but I think what bothers people is that clearly its motivation was to attack Latinos,” Perales said. “It certainly has its fascist overtones, and it’s something that few people would find acceptable in this nation.”

But the new law has support from pro-enforcement groups, welcoming it as part of a necessary crackdown.

“In the absence of the federal government doing its jobs in terms of being able to protect citizens, the state of Arizona had to step up to get something done,” said Ed Kowalski of Dutchess County. Elizabeth Butler, Kowalski’s niece, was killed in 2005 by a Guatemalan man she had dated who was in the U.S. illegally. Kowalski said he testified in support of the law after its sponsor, state Sen. Russell Pearce, allowed victim-impact statements from the group 9/11 Families for a Secure America.

John Pennell, a retired New York City police officer and a member of Rockland’s Tea Party group, Rally for America, said he doubted officers could randomly stop people under the new law.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people, and for a majority, their position is: Close the border, then sit down and figure out what to do about illegal immigration,” he said.

Comprehensive immigration bills have failed twice in Congress, and the issue is seen as politically dicey, particularly for Republicans. Schumer has pledged to introduce a bipartisan bill as chairman of the Senate immigration subcommittee. But the co-sponsorship of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is in doubt because of a dispute over the timing of energy legislation.

Pro-reform rallies had already been planned for May in Westchester and Rockland counties. The Arizona measure will help energize the cause, said Gail Golden, chairwoman of the Rockland Immigration Coalition, which is planning an event in mid-May. The Hudson Valley Community Coalition is organizing the Peekskill event, where demonstrators will call for a deadline for the new bill.

To Golden, Arizona’s measure amounts to “open war on people with dark skin.”

Emily Dominguez, a councilwoman in Haverstraw, said people in her community have discussed how U.S. citizens who are Hispanic would feel if they were stopped in Arizona because they were speaking Spanish.

“I do think we have to come up with some solutions. What is that solution, I don’t know,” she said. “But it has to be something that everyone can live with.”

Frances Pratt, a longtime civil rights activist and president of the Nyack branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called for a humane approach. “How can you have a Statue of Liberty saying, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free’ and not be humane about it?” she said. “It boils down to what’s just and what’s right.”

Staff writers Terry Corcoran and Sean Gorman contributed to this report.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 6th, 2010 at 12:45 pm by Leah Rae. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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Reporters from The Journal News track the latest developments in immigration. Beyond Borders explores the news, the cultures and controversies.
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