Saturday, May 1, 2010


Police arrested Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez and 34 other protesters in front of the White House, as thousands more joined protests across the nation to denounce a new Arizona law ordering policemen to arrest suspected illegal immigrants.

The Arizona bill, also known as SB 1070, was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer last month.

It’s drawn widespread condemnation from immigrant groups although a recent Gallup poll indicated it’s supported by a majority of Americans.

“We join the voices of civil rights leaders, constitutional scholars and legal experts across the country who’ve expressed grave concerns,” said Jon Melegrito of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA).

“This measure allows law enforcement to question anyone based on ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they may be undocumented. Even citizens and legal immigrants caught not carrying proof of their US legal status could be charged as felons,” Melegrito explained.

“This is ridiculous,” opined lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC).

“Under the US Constitution, immigration violation is a civil offense. What the Arizona state has done is criminalize the offense and is, therefore, unconstitutional,” he averred.

SB 1070, which won’t be implemented for a couple of months, is already facing at least three legal challenges in the courts.

Immigrant groups have gone on the offensive because other states experiencing problems with illegal immigration have signaled they may follow Arizona’s lead.

In the crowd outside the White House were about half a dozen Fil-Ams, most of whom travelled from New York.

There is a perceptible lack of appreciation among many Fil-Ams for issues surrounding immigration reforms – many see this either as a “Latino problem” or rewarding people who jump the queue while they wait as much as a decade to be legally reunited with loved ones left behind in the Philippines.

But community leaders warn Arizona’s precedent could hurt them directly.

Valera recounted instances where Filipinos, both US citizens and green-card holders, were detained aboard Amtrak trains near the US-Canada border.

From their accounts, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were allegedly singling out Latino-looking individuals, and Filipinos often bear the same features.

There’s a big chance Fil-Ams will fall victim to the alleged racial profiling of Latinos.

“This law legalizes unchecked racial profiling by police and places all minorities under constant suspicion,” Melegrito said, “It instills fear and distrust in government and undermines this country’s principles of justice, fairness and equal protection under the law.”

He said SB 1070 was “a step backward and moves this great country in the wrong direction.”

“The existence of 12 million undocumented aliens, including about one million Filipinos, should not be seen as a criminal problem in the US,” Valera stressed.

Congressman Gutierrez, an 8-term Democratic lawmaker representing the Chicago district, is one of the principal authors of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009.

He assailed the partisan gridlock in Congress that’s blocked action on comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigrant leaders blamed the crisis spawned by Arizona’s decision to crack down hard on illegal immigration to the federal government’s failure to enact reforms.

Gutierrez reserved his most stinging attacks on Republican lawmakers, whom he blamed for the current stalemate.

He said he was letting himself be arrested to “escalate the struggle” for immigration reforms.

He also called on President Obama to use his executive powers to thwart the Arizona law, by issuing a directive to ICE not to process people arrested under SB 1070.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – one of the most influential forces in the civil rights movement – vowed to mount a similar campaign to overturn SB 1070 and stop other states that might adopt a similar measure.

Melegrito echoed the observation that enacting comprehensive immigration reform will do away with threats like SB 1070.

“We call on our elected officials to once and for all enact an immigration reform measure that upholds our Constitution, respects civil liberties and human rights, and celebrates our nation’s values of inclusiveness, compassion and justice,” he declared.

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