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Advocates Gear up as the Immigration Debate Heats Up-Caribbean Life

Published: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 4:05 PM EDT
Square, near City Hall in Manhattan.

Brooklyn Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke told Caribbean Life that the law is a “step backwards,” while New York State Senate ConferenceLeader John Sampson described it as “scary.”

“The new law in Arizona is a step backwards in addressing our broken immigration system,” Clarke said. “It is the unfortunate response to federal government’s lack of action on comprehensive immigration reform.”

Sampson said his first impression of the law is that “it’s scary.”

“I’m taken aback by the enactment of such a law,” said the son of a Guyanese immigrant, who represents the 19th Senatorial District in Brooklyn. “This law, if challenged in court, will be unconstitutional.It will legalize the profiling of immigrants.”

Over the weekend, Caribbean activists joined their Hispanic counterparts and other immigration advocates in protesting a new Arizona law that targets illegal immigrants.

“As Americans, we must stand up against this law,” Maria Elena Letona, associate director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities, told a rally in Boston on Saturday. “It’s a travesty, and it’s a moral outrage.”

The law, widely viewed as the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration in the United States, requires law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status – and arrest them without a warrant – if they have a “reasonable suspicion” they are in the country illegally. It also requires immigrants to carry proof of their legal status at all times.

The measure, signed into law by Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, has evoked fears among Caribbean and other immigrants, claiming that police will single out them out, including those who are in the country legally, and engage in systematic racial profiling.

Meanwhile, New York immigrant community leaders urged U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer at a news conference and rally outside his Manhattan office on April 21, to introduce legislation for fair and bipartisan immigration reform.

At the rally, organized by the New York Immigration Coalition, they also announced a 10-day countdown to the May 1 deadline that advocates around the nation have set for a bill introduction.

“Over the next 10 days, the attention of immigrant communities across the nation will be focused on Sen. Schumer and President Obama and the May 1 deadline,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.“Every day, we’ll be taking action to remind Sen.Schumer that he must follow through on his commitment to deliver a strong, bipartisan immigration reform bill.”

Although Sen. Schumer has been discussing a bipartisan immigration bill with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) for the last several months, they have yet to produce a draft bill.“Too much effort has gone into immigration reform, including the significant effort made by Sen. Schumer; too many lives have been lost; and too many families have been ripped apart, for it all to lead to nothing.We need to deliver change.Now!” Ms.Hong said.

“Senator Schumer promised that we would have bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation by Labor Day 2009.It’s almost seven months later, and we still haven’t seen the introduction of a bipartisan bill in the Senate,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum and chairman of the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign, the leading national coalition representing hundreds of organizations and campaigns in 42 states.

Brewer said the law was necessary to combat a crisis of illegal immigrants who have poured into Arizona from Mexico.

“We, in Arizona, have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” she said after signing the bill into law.