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News :: Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Race
Immigrants March to Stop the Raids, Full Legalization Now
02 May 2007
It was 4:30 a.m. when they came banging on her door, waking her and everyone else in the house. She went to see what was going on. “Get down!” called out one of her housemates in a loud whisper, “La migra! Get on the floor!” She could barely see the men face down on the carpet but saw the shadows on the window and a bright flashlight that began scanning inside her living room. She ran back to her 4-year-old and locked herself up in the bedroom. She grabbed her child who immediately started whimpering sensing his mother’s panic. “Don’t cry, don’t make a sound. There are policemen outside who want to take us, take me away. We can’t let them hear us. Don’t say a word.” The child understood. Immigration officers had been raiding homes for days in his neighborhood, going after someone with an expired visa and arresting everyone within it without proper documentation. Mothers talked about it in corner stores, in laundry mats, at the playground.
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“We get calls every single day. ‘They took my father. They took my brother. What should I do?’” said Beatriz Senior from Centro Presente, an organization in Cambridge that works closely with Latino immigrant families and is helping run a national anti-raid, familias unidas campaign. “But there are so many cases, and it’s so hard to work through them legally. It’s hard for us to keep up with them.”

After some more agonizing minutes the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents gave up and left in their police cars. Jeanette packed the essential, waited until the first signs of dawn, and made for her brother’s house on the other side of the city. For two weeks she hasn’t had the courage to go back to pack the rest of her belongings. Her four-year-old, a U.S. citizen, has been having nightmares since the night of the raid. Not too long ago he saw a traffic cop and said, “Mami a policeman! Policemen are bad but Spiderman is going to kill them.”

This year’s international workers day, May 1st, a new poster made itself visible in the crowd of marchers who galvanized for immigration reform. “Stop the raids!” it read next to “Full legalization now!” Immigrants and organized communities across the United States cried out against what they see is an unjust, inhuman immigration policy that at its core seeks to enforce border control and security, leaving immigrant rights as a last priority.

At the legislative level, the Securtiy Through Regularized Immigration and Vibrant Economy (STRIVE) Act was recently introduced by Congressmen Gutierrez (D-IL) and Flake (R-AZ) in the House of Congress. Senator Kennedy is expected to introduce this bill in the Senate.

The STRIVE Act does create a path for citizenship, which entails a six-year conditional status for immigrants followed by the opportunity to apply for residential status. “That is some of the most important pieces of immigration reform for folks like Jeanette living in fear every day and who don’t have a path towards citizenship,” said Michelle Rudy, legislative organizer for Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).

Organizations like the MIRA find many improvements in the debate about immigration reform in the STIVE Act but also worry about many of its provisions. “One of the major problems with the STRIVE Act is that there is a ‘trigger provision’ that says legalization will only move forward with a trigger. And the trigger would be ‘when all of the enforcement mechanisms are in place.’ Now what does that mean and how long will it take? What kind of border surveillance will put in place for that to happen?” said Michelle.

The legislation also contains a provision called the “touchback” which requires the head of the family to return to a “port of entry” before applying for legal status, including a $2,000 fee per person (compared to the current $350 application fee). Moreover, it supports Bush’s guest worker program with 400,000 new visas per year, which critics say is a path towards enforced labor, legally binding immigrants to their temporary work visas while removing any abilities for labor or workers rights demands. Because their visa is directly tied to their ability to keep the job, labor leaders believe that will instill fear in workers to form or join unions, for example.

Despite the recent raids, the mood during the Everett-Chelsea-East Boston immigrant marches this year was still festive and defiant with at least 500 participants. In Massachusetts as a whole, there were marches in as many as 11 towns and cities. At the peak of the East Boston march, Lilo Mancía, a New Bedford resident reminded people about the now infamous ICE raids at Michael Bianco Inc. there a few months ago. His wife was one of the people picked up and deported to Honduras, leaving him a single father of a 2-year-old, Jeffrey, and a 4-year-old, Kevin. He was also a Bianco employee himself and has been out of a job since. “All the immigrants in New Bedford don’t have jobs now. All the immigrants there are suffering greatly,” he said. Many of the march participants were moved and approached him later to contribute with any economic means they had.

Lilo Mancía also reminded people that immigration is often not a choice but a necessity. He mentioned how in Honduras and Central America in general, people are still suffering from the civil wars in the 80s which created a lot of insecurity on the streets. His wife’s sister was shot dead in a bus by gang members where as many as 28 people died. “Honduras is worse now after the war. They say the war is over, but it’s worse now with all the discrimination and poverty. I’m not going back there,” he said.
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