May 2, 2007

Immigrant Rights Pushed

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Yesterday, Ithaca joined dozens of cities across the nation in rallies for immigrant rights.
More than 70 students gathered for a rally at Ho Plaza before marching to the Bernie Milton Pavilion on the Commons while chanting slogans such as, “Hey hey, ho ho, deportation has got to go!”
Students from Ithaca College also marched from their campus and met hundreds of other Ithaca residents resulting in an energetic crowd of over 200 people.
The rally featured several speakers and an open mic session where a Nigerian student linked the current immigration movement to the Civil Rights struggle of the 50s and 60s.
Rally-goers presented various demands such as a workable and achievable legalization program for the undocumented population and the ban of Guest-Worker Programs.
Similar rallies took place around the nation from Los Angeles to Detroit in which demonstrators demanded citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants residing in the U.S.
The rallies were in response to a recent bill passed in the House that would speed up the deportation process, tighten border security and deem illegal immigrants as criminals. Last week, a proposal that would have granted citizen ship to the majority of illegal immigrants in the United States fell through in the Senate.
Donna Ugboaja ’10 said the policy proposals of both parties place constraints on immigrants.
“All of the policies being proposed by the administration, both Republican and Democrat, do not give full rights to immigrants,” she said. “Immense fines [of] up to $10,000 [are required] and the perpetuated exploitation of workers through work contracts can neither be changed nor protested.”
Under the Democrats’ recent proposal of the “Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy (STRIVE) Act,” undocumented immigrant workers must return to their native country until the completion of paperwork while paying nearly $3,500 in fines to begin the application process. Ugboaja argued that beneath its immigrant-friendly demeanor, the act is a major compromise with [Bush’s] proposed Guest Worker Program.
“It is essentially a self-deportation proposal, and is not acceptable for the millions of families that will have to be torn apart to obey its measures,” she said.
Maria Bruno ’07 said the rally was a way to inform Congress and society that Americans oppose such bills, and support the full legalization of undocumented individuals. “Immigrants are embedded in the social and economic fabric of this country and we cannot just ignore this and keep treating them like criminals,” she said.
Carlos Gutierrez, president of the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County, stressed the importance of a dignified and fair immigration reform that ensures living wages, health benefits, and a clear path to citizenship.
“Immigrants are hard working residents that fill key roles in our local economy, enrich the local cultural landscape and they are productive members of our community who pay taxes, raise families and contribute to our schools, churches, neighborhoods and communities,” he said.
Some students believe that immigration is an economic issue.
“Immigration is something that we should all be uniting for, whether one is an immigrant or not,” said Bruno. “What the immigration issue really reflects is the economic oppression that countries are undergoing due to American and European politics.”
Marlene Ramos ’09 said she believes it is America’s duty to protect the rights of all workers.
“In a time of economic prosperity and expanding international relations, the United States has to find innovative ways to incorporate a mobile labor force, meet the needs of employees and ethical business while protecting and ensuring the rights of marginalized groups, especially those of workers,” she said.
According to Ugboaja, the rally was a success.
“Although the rally was not nearly as large as last year’s, it was still a momentous event of solidarity between students, local workers and immigrants in the struggle for human rights,”she said.
Although the Ithaca rally was not as large as last year, yesterday was predicted to be the second largest day of national participation in May Day history, according to Akua Gyamerah ’07.
“The level of political consciousness and demands in the speeches given were also a great indication that the immigrant rights movement is expecting a lot better legislation than what is currently in Congress,” she said.
Ugboaja agreed that the Ithaca rally was a success in terms of local action in terms of changing immigration policy.
“It was a great rally because the people that were involved are seriously active in working together with the immigrant community to bring about the changes here in Ithaca to make it a safe haven for immigrants,” Ugboaja said.