Detentions of undocumented immigrants prompt passionate rally in Rochester

March 26, 2017 07:00 PM

Western New York activists declared a new movement Friday to oppose the detention or deportation of undocumented immigrants in a rally outside the Federal Building in Rochester.

"Are we fired up?  Are we fired up?" Denise Young with the group Metro Justice exhorted a crowd of around 100 protesters. “We are about building a movement, brothers and sisters.”

Members of the crowd chanted condemnation at police who help in the enforcement of immigration laws, and at the detention of people caught in the United States illegally.

“Are these laws producing and promoting justice?” asked Ruth Ferguson with Christ Church Episcopal who drew a rousing “no” from the demonstrators before continuing “It is our job to be the voices of those who have been rendered silent."

The rally focused on fresh stories of undocumented immigrants recently detained, such as the case of two Guatemalan women, in the country illegally, taken into custody in Geneseo Thursday. When a Geneseo police officer pulled them over for speeding, he discovered the driver didn’t have a license, or any documentation for their vehicle, there were no car seats for several children in the car, and neither of the women spoke English. When he asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection for help, immigration authorities took the women, and six children into custody.

Advocates accused the police of “profiling” and exceeding their authority by contacting immigration, many of them chanting “stop the deportations, no more ICE," during the rally.

The event had actually been scheduled before Thursday’s incident, partly in response to the detention of other undocumented immigrants such as five agricultural workers picked up in Western New York, or regional activist Jose Coyote, himself in the country illegally, now incarcerated for a month in the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia.

One former detainee Dolores Bustamante shared her own story of capture and threat of deportation.  

"I present myself here with the pain inside as if I was being arrested," she said, speaking through an interpreter. Bustamante entered the United States illegally from Mexico 13 years ago.  In 2014, she was caught after she too was pulled over for a traffic infraction.   After a lengthy fight, the case to deport her stalled on technical grounds last week. But she will have to return to court to start the process again in May.

"We are not delinquent. We are not violators like they're saying," she said.  "People need to hear because we need help from everybody, all the people that are around us. We need help to support us at this moment in time."

The event included budding activists new to the cause including SUNY Geneseo student Clara Gallagher who urged compassion for those violating the law by their presence in the United States.  “We really just want to let these people know that they’re not alone,” Gallagher said. “And that we are here to listen to them and to their stories."

“The laws definitely need to be changed,” said protestor Irene Sanchez with the Worker Justice Center of New York. “Right now the waiting lists for someone to become a resident or a legal citizen are very, very long.”

Demonstrators acknowledged that, after repeatedly making no progress in Washington, large scale changes to U.S. immigration law are unlikely.  Instead, they said, they planned to concentrate on making things easier for people in the country illegally by discouraging local police from enforcing immigration law, or from contacting Border Protection when they catch undocumented immigrants, as well as changing state policies such as allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“We are going to continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Megan Maloney with the New York Immigration Coalition.  “But right now, that's not a winnable fight.  So we have to fight the winnable fights that are here, in our local states, in our states that say they are liberal.”

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Charles Molineaux

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