Immigrant Students March Through Georgia, Visit Sheriff’s Office

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(APN) LAWRENCEVILLE — On Wednesday, March 03, 2010, four students from Miami Dade University–Filipe Matos, 23; Gaby Pacheco, 25; Carlos Roa, 22; and Juan Rodriguez, 20–walked through Gwinnett County, Georgia, for a discussion with Sheriff Butch Conway who supports enforcement of the controversial law, 287(g).

The four students who began their walk in Miami, Florida, are ultimately going to Washington, DC, where a large rally is planned. Of the four, only Rodriguez is a legal resident and the other three are subject to arrest.

However, none were arrested Wednesday, but the sheriff did not show up for the discussion.

The students were instead “allowed” to talk to Officer Williamson, who Atlanta Progressive News learned was merely in charge of court security, in front of an office marked Sheriff.

The office in which the sheriff actually conducts business was in another building, an officer on duty in the office told the APN.

Williamson listened respectfully, saying nothing as the four complained of the terror experienced by the immigrant community being subject to arrest while driving, as well as their personal frustration at being raised here but being blocked from professional positions by their legal status.

The four want to draw attention to the need for high school graduates like themselves, who want to go to college or into the military, to find a path toward citizenship.

The Dream Act is currently being discussed in US Congress to achieve this.

They are also concerned with the issues of comprehensive immigration reform including working visas, a path to citizenship, and the end to the breakup of families.

Three of the walkers commented after the meeting. “The immigrant law has failed us,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco added that Sheriff Conway is very active in the Special Olympics and said that she herself is a special education teacher. “We would be on the same committee if I lived here.”

Matos said that picking on those who are law abiding citizens “makes us feel like we are less than human beings.”

Roa said his family moved from Venzuela for opportunity and found themselves living the American nightmare, living in fear. He only wanted to achieve his dream of being a high school teacher and encouraging others to strive to be college educated professionals.

The four were met by about 60 individuals representing a coalition of organizations working for immigration reform including the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLU), Atlantans Building for Leadership and Empowerment (ABLE), Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), Cobb Immigration Alliance, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Georgia Detention Watch, US Human Rights Watch, and others.

These groups were united in their opposition to 287(g), the program used by Gwinnett County and a few other Georgia counties, which, as previously reported by APN, allows all employees of the county sheriff’s department to ask for proof of citizenship no matter how minor the offense. Those who cannot show proof of citizenship in counties using 287(g) such as Gwinnett and Cobb are put in detention centers as illegal aliens.

According to Detention Watch, some people have been wrongly identified as illegal.

“These people are being treated worse than criminals,” Priscilla Padron of Detention Watch said.

The US Department of Homeland Security has begun logging in individuals so they can be traced by family as they are moved, Padron said. Previously they were moved without record. Their treatment while incarcerated is also unregulated.

“No one can enter the country legally; you need friends with a bank account. We want comprehensive immigration reform,” Padron said.

She held up a sign saying “Reform not Raids.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center said they were present to make sure whatever happened to the students was legal, particularly in the event they had been arrested or detained. Volunteers for the organization wore orange hats.

Ev Howe of ABLE said his organization has asked for a meeting with the Sheriff. He said the sheriff told them “it would be a waste of his time and ours.”

His organization wants similar amnesty that was provided to certain illegal immigrants in 1986 under former President Ronald Reagan, believing that if the discussion could start there, perhaps a reasonable compromise could be achieved.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 also made it illegal to knowingly hire illegal immigrants and required employers to attest to the citizenship status of their employees. However, this apparently has not prevented more illegal immigrants from working in the US since that time.

Members of ABLE held up signs stating “No human being is illegal” and “We’re not numbers we are human beings.”

The Cobb Immigrant Alliance was represented by Rich Pellegrino who said 287(g) was increasing crime because people who were victims were afraid to come forward to report victimization to the police.

Jeremy Gonzales with GLAHR said the goal of comprehensive immigration reform is to keep local governments from making their own ordinances.

Azadeh Shahshahani of the ACLU held up signs saying “Immigrant rights and human rights,” and “Don’t break up families.”

(END/2010)

About the author:

Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at alice@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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