Blog Archive

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Downtown Asheville march to protest treatment of immigrant families

Written by Sandra V. Rodriguez
Citizen Times
April 30, 2011

ASHEVILLE — Immigration reform activists are hoping to put a human face to one of the nation's most contentious issues — illegal immigration — during a march Sunday.

Of particular concern to activists are the local deportations that are tearing families apart.

A coalition of community, workers' rights and immigration rights activists are marching on May Day, a traditional day of protest and celebration of workers rights, to call for an end to the arrests and deportations separating immigrant families in Western North Carolina.

“Mothers Against Family Separation” will be 2:30-5 p.m. in Pritchard Park and will make its way through the downtown streets and end at Aston Park, where there will be a picnicand participants can tell their stories.

“Anti-immigrant policies that exist in Western North Carolina impact women and their families almost disproportionately than other people,” said Michelle Bedard, organizer with the nonprofit Western North Carolina Workers Center.

“Not only are their labor rights being abused, at home they are worried because their children and their husbands are being racially profiled, pulled over by police and being deported without any criminal charges.”

That hurts the family economically and emotionally, she said.

The inability of the federal government to reform the immigration system has many activists concerned as more states and communities are enacting stricter laws in the meantime.

Activists believe Henderson County's 287(g) law has had a detrimental effect on the overall safety of the community as a whole. The law allows local police to check the citizenship status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally and deport them if necessary.

Loida Ginocchio-Silva hopes that by putting a human face to the issue, people and legislators will be able to talk about the issue calmly. The debate in recent years has resulted in many myths about illegal immigration being pushed into the mainstream, she said.

“People have these ideas, ‘Oh, the illegal immigrant, that person lives off welfare,'” said Ginocchio-Silva, with Defensa Comunitaria, a local group made up of immigrant youth, parents, advocates and non-immigrant allies.

She said that is not true. Immigrants cannot apply for welfare and they do pay taxes, she said. The IRS issues illegal immigrants a nine-digit number with the sole purpose of submitting taxes.

“The government knows that we are working here,” she said. “And they want our cheap labor, but they are not giving us any benefits except this number so we can pay into this system.”

Immigrant women workers have a strong showing in the local economy as they make up the basic staff in the hospitality industry yet women are paid the least, according to Bedard. She said she has seen too many women, being cheated out of wages, denied rights or harassed into dangerous work conditions even if they are pregnant.

“We want to be part of the march because we want to support women and fight discrimination alongside these women that are suffering at this time,” she said.

And because women are afraid of losing their livelihood, Bedard said they won't speak up about overtime or unsafe working conditions.

“That is not fair at all,” she said. “We want laws that are fair to everybody and that are also humane, that see everybody as human beings.”

Ginocchio-Silva knows that legislators can come up with humane immigration reform. She hopes that marches like this Sunday's help spur legislators to act sooner rather than later.|head