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Monday, February 21, 2011

Forum draws immigrants seeking answers

By Jennie Rodriguez
Recordnet Staff Writer
February 21, 2011 12:00 AM

STOCKTON - Elizabeth Hernandez's two toddlers used to light up when they saw their father come home from work every day in his muddy shoes and scuffed clothing.

"He used to play with them," Hernandez said of her husband, a landscaper.

"He is a hard worker," said Hernandez, 23. "He is a very respectful person."

But it's been a month since Hernandez and the couple's children have seen him. He was deported to Mexico before Hernandez, a U.S. citizen, could complete her husband's residency petition.

Hernandez didn't know where to go for help - until Sunday night. That's when a forum was held on immigrants' rights at the St. Mary's Church gymnasium in downtown Stockton, where speakers included a representative from the Mexican Consulate's protection and legal matters department.

It is estimated that there are about 6 million undocumented immigrants from Mexico in the United States. San Joaquin County's agricultural industry draws many in search of work.

"We see that there is a great necessity for people to know their basic rights," said Luis Magana, the forum organizer from Project Voice. "We want to empower the people. The people who live here and work here."

Hernandez was happy to finally have some answers to her questions.

"I've been trying to get information from different people, and they've been telling me the wrong things," she said.

Alejandro Celorio of the Sacramento Mexican Consulate office said undocumented immigrants are among the most vulnerable groups to forgo their civil rights.

Celorio said undocumented immigrants have the right to demand a search warrant, and the right to remain silent when approached by immigration enforcement agents, and yet most are unaware of those rights.

Celorio said most undocumented immigrants who face deportation sign voluntary removal orders when they could have argued their case before a judge.

He said undocumented immigrants also are less likely to report to police when they are victims of crimes for fear of being deported.

"They are afraid of the system," Celorio said.

More than 100 people attended the event.