Protestors gather in Raleigh for immigration rally

July 30, 2010 4:28:16 AM PDT
Hundreds of protestors opposed to Arizona's tough new immigration law rallied in Raleigh's Nash Square Thursday evening.The group wants the law - which requires police officers to ask for a driver's license, passport or other identity document if they reasonably suspect a person is not allowed to be in the U.S. - overturned. Key parts of the law have been suspended by a federal judge, but Arizona has appealed.

The NC Justice Center teamed up with nearly a dozen other groups to make Raleigh's march happen Thursday.

One of the protestors was woman who not too long ago joined a hunger strike in downtown Raleigh against immigration laws.

"A lot of immigrants are living in fear right now, undocumented immigrants especially," illegal immigrant Loida Silva said.

Silva was brought to North Carolina as a child illegally and has lived in the state since then.

Protestors like Silva gathered at Nash Square with signs and a message of opposition to a law, they say, would lead to racial profiling and discrimination. They also want to inform others of an immigration system they say is broken.

"Everything that we can do helps, because it raises awareness about what's happening to undocumented immigrants," Silva said.

Organizers call Thursday's rally a march to protest racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants and all minority communities.

"I think that we need to change the language of how we address the question of immigration," said Fernando Mejia, with the NC Justice Center.

He says the Arizona law would hurt, not help.

"This law is very simplistic, it doesn't address the complexities of the immigration system," Mejia said. "So we think that it's not the way to go, because it also has the propensity for racial profiling.

But those in favor of Arizona's law - of actively seeking out illegal immigrants and sending them back where they came from - say the law doesn't need to address complexities, they say, what it needs is to be upheld.

"The solution is to enforce our existing constitutional requirements, our existing border and immigration laws," said William Gheen, founder of Americans for Legal Immigration.

He says Arizona got it right - tough laws and tough enforcement. He says it's the only way to avoid a bleak future.

"The violence that you see killing 70, 80, 90 people per day in Mexico will sweep into places like Wake County, Mantio, Outer Banks, Charlotte and at that point there will be nothing we can do politically or peacefully to defend ourselves," Gheen said.

However, Mejia says it's all about understanding not enforcement.

"Focusing on enforcement doesn't really get to the roots of why people come to this country, right," Mejia said. "It's like you're trying to heal a sickness, but you're trying to heal the symptoms, not going to the root of the illness."

In 2008, about 700,000 Hispanics and Latinos were thought to call North Carolina home and many aren't in the state legally.

And laws followed in North Carolina aren't so different from the tough immigration laws in the Southwest border states.

"People are concerned, they don't want to continue living under fear that they might eventually get detained and deported," Mejia said. "We don't want local law enforcement working with immigration officers."

It does not happen everywhere in the state, but in Wake County, law enforcement partners with immigration and customs enforcement, or ICE. Local officers are trained by federal agents, so when immigrants are arrested, papers are checked. If they're not documented, they go to immigration instead of going to jail and being released.

But some say that is not the solution.

"It creates fear and has the propensity for increasing racial profiling," Mejia said.

In the meantime, Gheen has been working to strengthen immigration laws in North Carolina for years.

"We haven't been able to get through any immigration enforcement stuff in North Carolina, because Democrat leadership has blocked every single enforcement bill," he said. "It took us until 2008 to get them to stop giving licenses to illegal immigrants."

"A cobbled together patchwork of solutions, state by state, will likely not work," North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue's communications director Chrissy Pearson said. "If the state attempted to take action without federal support, those actions wouldn't be meaningful anyway." Despite a majority of Americans supporting the Arizona law, President Obama has opposed it, arguing immigration policy needs to be comprehensive and set at the federal level, not left up to individual states.

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