Hundreds attend immigration rally in Garden City

5/10/2010

By SHAJIA AHMAD

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

Kristin Everingham traveled more than three hours west to tell her immigration story.

With her 3-month old son, Zahir, wrapped in her arms, the Wichita resident explained to the large crowd gathered Saturday in Stevens Park that she and her husband, Hipolito Gutierrez, were married in Mexico but have not been able to raise their family of four together since he returned south of the border in 2003.

Her husband was in the country illegally when the two met while the Kansas native was in college in Indiana. Before they were married, he returned to see his family living near Mexico City, a poor decision in hindsight, the mother of two explained. The husband and wife must now wait out a 10-year bar that prohibits her husband from re-entering the United States after having been inside the country illegally under federal law. The family still has three and a half years to wait, while Everingham raises Zahir and their 3-year-old Hasan alone before she can even begin the procedure for sponsoring her husband for legal residency.

Now the family has two plans, two possibilities of making a life together, she said: continue waiting out the 10-year bar or making a life down in Mexico City. They've already tried the latter option, she said, but "it's extremely difficult to make ends meet down there."

"The vast majority are people who've made sacrifices for their families," Everingham said in a separate interview. "There are very few who've done something they shouldn't, here or elsewhere."

No one asked Everingham to come to Saturday's rally in Stevens Park, where a few hundred southwest Kansans gathered to show their support for comprehensive immigration reform and voice their concerns about Arizona's newest immigration law, which empowers law enforcement officials to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally and requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times. The measure also makes it a state crime to live in or travel through Arizona illegally. The mother of two came on her own, she said, because she wanted others to hear her family's story.

Those at the rally held signs in both English and Spanish, some of which read "Stop the raids," "My love and family are in America," "Alto al racismo," or stop racism, and others that indicated where they were from, including Dodge City, Liberal and Scott City.

Several of Saturday's speakers spoke in protest of the Arizona law, better known as Senate Bill 1070, because they feel it is an open invitation for discrimination against members of the Hispanic and Latino communities, regardless of their citizenship statuses, they said.

Michael Feltman, Jr., a Dodge City-based immigration attorney, said he didn't feel the Arizona law would withstand pending lawsuits from a handful of local municipalities and even from above: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government is weighing a lawsuit based on federal preemption rules or on the grounds that it violates federal civil rights statutes, several media outlets reported Sunday.

"The very core (of the law) is racial profiling," Feltman told Saturday's crowd. "We're a nation of immigrants, we're a nation of families, and we're a nation under God. SB 1070 goes against all these principles."

In 2007, Arizona lawmakers passed legislation requiring all employers to use the E-Verify system and revoked business licenses from employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants more than once, according to the Immigration Policy Center, the research and policy arm of the American Immigration Council. However, the border state is not the first to take immigration matters into its own hands; other states also have attempted to enforce federal law through state-specific measures.

Oklahoma enacted a state law in 2007, as well, better known as House Bill 1804, which makes it illegal to knowingly transport illegal immigrants, requires state contractors to check the immigration status of all workers, revokes business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, denies illegal immigrants driver's licenses and requires proof of citizenship for certain government benefits.

And in 2006, Georgia passed similar illegal immigrant legislation that mandates use of the E-Verify program for government contractors, taxes workers without a taxpayer ID number, requires jails to check the immigration status of any prisoners charged with a felony or DUI and requires verification of immigration status to receive any public benefits where the individual is older than 18.

According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, the overwhelming majority of Americans think the country's immigration policies need to be seriously overhauled but remain deeply divided about what to do: 51 percent agreed the Arizona law was "about right" in its approach to the problem, 36 percent agreed it "went too far" and 9 percent agreed "it did not go far enough."

Organizers said prior to Saturday they were expecting a few thousand at the rally and were "disappointed" more individuals didn't come.

Eva Barraza, one of the rally organizers and a board member of Hispanos Unidos, said Saturday she was receiving calls from several local residents, asking her if it would be safe to join the assembly or if they might be questioned about their immigration statuses or possibly arrested by local law enforcement officials.

Barraza said this morning she and the organization believe some individuals spread rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would be present at the rally.

"We were really safe, and no one was ever in danger," she said. "(The Garden City Police Department) did a wonderful job."

Waving an American flag at Saturday's assembly, Maria Riggs said she came out because she believes the current system is broken. The Garden City resident who identified herself as a Mexican-American, added that she believes Arizona's efforts to crack down on illegal immigration is "completely crazy."

Also waving her own sign that read, "My mom is an immigrant, and I am proud," 11-year-old Marie Lemke echoed similar sentiments.

"Our mom is from Germany," she said. "It wouldn't be fair if (a similar law) happened here."

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