“El pueblo unido, hamas sera vencido” [a community united will never be divided] was the chant heard coming from Washington Park in Union City last Tuesday, as dozens of locals marched from Jersey City to Union City in a demonstration demanding immigration law reform.
Leading the rally was the state chapter of the nationwide Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
Their message: stop the violence, stop the separation of families, and give fair human and integral rights in migratory reform.
“We are all immigrants and we are all Americans,” said Pedro Rivas, president of the state chapter of ACORN. “We are not breaking any laws. We are looking for reform and the acknowledgment of civil rights.”
“This is a human rights issue,” said Geno Ayala, who was among the crowd gathered at Washington Park.
“Clearly we are seeing a backlash and aggressive reactions taken throughout the state [and the country] against people who are hard-working and not doing anything wrong.”
“All we are trying to do is to raise our voices for people all over the world, and it’s a way for us to stand united with others,” said Ayala.
ACORN is the nation’s largest community organization of low to moderate income families, who work together for social justice and stronger communities and was first established in 1970.
From Jersey City to Union City
ACORN started the march from River View Fisk Park, located at Bowers Street and Palisade Avenue, in Jersey City at 11 a.m., and arrived at Union City around noon, where keynote speakers, including D-4 Hudson County Freeholder Eliu Rivera, took the podium.
In the midst of the rally, the entire group made a simultaneous call to their New Jersey legislators including U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. They left a voicemail crying out for reform in unison.
“We need immigration reform,” said Rivera. “All we want is a better quality of life. These opportunities should be given to all immigrants, who are looking for liberty for their families and themselves.”
Also at the rally was Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who also gave a speech.
Freeholder and Commissioner Tilo Rivas was also scheduled to speak, but was unable to attend due to family matters.
“We have so many immigrants living here in the United States, and so many that have an illegal status and have families here,” said Rivas. “We want solutions in immigration.”
One of the proposed solutions is for a guideline for immigrants who already have families here, such as American born sons and daughters.
“We need clarification on these special situations, so that families are not divided,” said Rivas.
Unfortunately, many parents have been separated from their American born children due to their legal status, and have been deported back to their counties of origin or remain incarcerated until immigration decides what’s to be done.
Taken at 3 a.m.
One such case of family separation is the story of 20-year-old Bybyana Arias of Passaic, who was among the speakers at Tuesday’s rally who shared her story with the masses.
Arias’ mother, Luz Flores, who is currently incarcerated in New Mexico, possibly faces deportation back to her native Dominican Republic after living and working in the States for over 20 years.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do,” said Arias. “Nine cops came for just one person.”
At 3 a.m. on Nov. 13, 2006, officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came into Arias’ home and took her mother.
“They just came into the house and didn’t ask,” said Arias, who was helping her mother pack some things. “They [also] told me that from that point forward ‘you can’t talk to your mom.'”
Arias, who was home with her 15-year-old sister, remembers that the officers’ hands were constantly on their firearms, and handcuffed her mother, which she felt was unnecessary.
Afterwards, Arias and her family sought the assistance of a lawyer, who is in the midst of working Flores’ case. Flores was first taken to Newark then transferred to Chicago, and later to a prison in New Mexico.
The reason ICE came in search of Flores was because she had failed to appear and go home on a voluntarily departure.
“We never received that letter, and they came to our house with no warning,” said Arias.
Flores is still being held in New Mexico, and ACORN is also offering their support from their New Mexico state chapter.
“What kind of legislation is that?” asked Rivas. “To have a working mother who paid her taxes and contributed to the government treated in this manner, what does that say?”
Arias and her sister are currently staying with their father while the situation is resolved. The family has also reached out to the offices of senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenburg.
“Immigration reform is the best solution to all of this,” said Arias. “They are separating families, and hurting American citizens. I’m an American citizen and I’m a student going to school. I still need my mother, and my 15 year old sister, what about her?”
According to Rivas, many politicians across the state have already allied themselves with ACORN’s cause and will continue to fight for reform at the state and national levels of government.
Arias will also continue working with ACORN at marches, signing petitions, and sending letters to congress until they are heard.
“We are going to do everything we can until we get immigration reform,” said Arias.
“No matter what your race or nationality is, we must have a conscience as human beings and children of God,” said Dudley Griffith president of ACORN’S political committee. “We are looking for the U.S. Congress to enact policies that will open the door to reform.” Jessica Rosero can be reached at email@example.com