Friday, January 23, 2009

Media Coverage: Shout Out to Obama for Immigrant Rights

Univision posted video, including interviews with protestors about their message for President Obama.

The San Antonio Express-News featured this week's rally in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in San Antonio, Texas:  (picture by Delcia Lopez, S.A. Express News)

By Hernán Rozemberg

On Obama's first day on the job, immigrant advocates in San Antonio and throughout the nation rallied Wednesday, calling on him to fulfill his campaign promise to overhaul immigration policies.

Part of an effort organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement in the nation's capital, a group of about 35 activists gathered outside the San Antonio office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Interstate 35 North and Loop 410 East to demand immediate changes.

The protesters, about half from San Antonio and the rest from Austin, said Obama does not need to wait on Congress to take action — he could immediately put an end to ICE work-site and home raids by signing an executive order, for example.

On the legislative front, immigration policy experts said Obama will not look for a major overhaul but tackle the issue piecemeal, trying at first to push Congress to pass previously proposed measures with bipartisan backing.

“Just like he promised to close Guantánamo Bay, we want him to close down Hutto with detained little children,” said Luissana Santibáñez with the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, referring to the ICE family detention center northeast of Austin.

Protesters also called for Obama to halt construction of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and pull back programs giving city, county and state law enforcement agencies authority to double as immigration agents.

They also asked for an about-face on “Operation Streamline,” an effort launched in Del Rio and expanded to other border areas to prosecute first-time unauthorized border crossers, a practice previously limited to suspected repeat offenders.

Asked for comment on these demands, the spokeswoman for ICE in San Antonio, Nina Pruneda, issued a statement with the agency's standard reply: ICE agents enforce the laws “professionally and humanely with an acute awareness of the impact that enforcement has on the individuals we encounter.”

Protesters insisted that it's the lack of humanity in the agency's approach that needs the most change.

They said ICE detains babies and toddlers at the Hutto detention center, and that its raids split up families, some long settled in the country.

“Our families are being terrorized,” said Iris Rodríguez, a San Antonio native now living in Austin, who edits the activist newspaperLa Nueva Raza. “We had all that talk about change — let's see it happen.”

The protest, which lasted about an hour and a half, drew two police officers who watched from their cars.

Many drivers passing by honked and gave thumbs-up signs.

But not everybody appreciated the effort — one pickup driver shouted profanities, while another, waving an American flag, cried out: “Go back home! Go back home!”