By Chauncey Alcorn
Corona and Elmhurst-based immigration reform advocates, including City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Elmhurst) and Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), were arrested last week during a civil disobedience protest outside the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service building in Manhattan.
Outraged by the ongoing controversy surrounding the state of Arizona’s immigration law, the protesters were among several reform groups across the city calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill before the end of the year, which the president has vowed to do in the past.
Ferreras and members of Make the Road New York, the city’s largest immigrant-based community organization, vowed June 2 not to eat anything for three days to “express their solidarity with the suffering of Latinos in Arizona,” who they said are being persecuted by that state’s government.
“I’m the daughter of immigrants. My father came to this country undocumented,” Ferreras said, discussing her three-day fast and her arrest the day before. “I’m hoping I’m doing this for someone else’s children and that President Obama is paying attention, realizing this is something important to our entire country.”
Make the Road New York members spoke about their protest during a June 2 news conference in Battery Park.
Deputy Director Javier Valdez said the organization’s three-day fast was set up to give undocumented immigrants a way to protest against the Arizona immigration law, which allows state and local law enforcement to arrest and detain illegals and ask for proof of citizenship when they have reasonable suspicion someone is in the United States without papers.
Valdez said many illegal immigrants wanted to participate in the civil disobedience effort the day before, but feared if they were arrested, they would be deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has a policy of deporting undocumented people detained for committing a crime.
“We wanted to elevate the issue of immigration and escalate the pressure on President Obama to take action, but it was important for us to do this in a way for undocumented immigrants to participate,” he said.
June 2 marked the third week in a row activists had gathered outside the USCIS building in Manhattan seeking arrest, a protest tactic dating back even before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
It was the first civil disobedience protest for Ferreras, who said she had never been arrested before.
“I was nervous about the arrest. I wasn’t nervous about the decision,” she said.
The activists hosted a press conference prior to the protest, expressing their solidarity with Latinos in Arizona and their frustration with inaction by the president and Congress.
“This is something that’s part of a larger effort with the New York Immigration Coalition, organizations and churches,” Ferreras said. “If there is no reform, more states like Arizona will start making up their own laws. We need a federal mandate to be able to help combat them and to be sure legislation like that passed in Arizona is not passed anywhere else in this country, This is about racial profiling. This is about fear tactics.”
After the press conference, the activists walked into a nearby street, deliberately impeding traffic while singing “We Shall Overcome,” Ferreras said.
“An officer comes forward with a bull horn and yells, ‘You are obstructing traffic! Please stop obstructing traffic!’” she said. “They came and handcuffed us and put us in a wagon. We went to the precinct and were booked.”
After about 2 1/2 hours, the protesters were freed, but Ferreras said she still must go to court in July.
“Clearly the process I went through yesterday is miniscule next to the struggle and the fear an immigrant goes through in Arizona because of the law that was passed,” she said.