ASHTABULA, Ohio — Labor, community and religious leaders called for a united effort to end inhuman immigration raids, arrests and deportations at a town hall meeting here.
The event, sponsored by the Ohio Coalition for Immigrant and Refugees Rights, drew an audience of 100 residents at the African-American People’s Baptist Church.
Speakers included state Sen. Capri Cafaro, Ohio AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Pierette Talley and the Rev. Abraham Allende of Iglesia La Trinidad in Canton. In addition, Veronica Dahlberg, director of HOLA, a local Hispanic advocacy group, introduced two families who gave testimonials on the traumatic and life-threatening impact of the raids.
“I am proud to be here in defense of basic civil and human rights,” Cafaro declared. “We need to maintain our commitment to diversity and immigration.
“Immigrants are being exploited by employers,” she said. “They want labor on the cheap. They want to pay low wages and avoid workmen’s compensation and health and safety regulations. We must eliminate this incentive.”
Prejudice against immigrants, she said, “is based on the misconception that they represent economic competition. We need to create jobs and build economic opportunities for everyone.”
The same views were voiced by area labor leaders including Ray Gruber, president of the Ashtabula County AFL-CIO, and Gene Turner and Wally Kaufman, leaders of the Ashtabula AFL-CIO Retirees Council.
Talley, who drove through a snow storm from Columbus for the event, denounced the arrest of 27 immigrant workers in Ashtabula who were turned over to federal authorities on Labor Day weekend.
“The previous administration undermined labor standards for all workers,” she said. “We need to legalize immigration and the status of immigrant workers. The AFL-CIO is proud to stand on the side of immigrants. We need a network of support to protect the civil and human rights of all workers.”
“This is not about statistics,” said the Rev. Allende. “It’s about people.” The members of his congregation, mostly from Mexico and Central America, are hard-working members of the community.
“They get jailed for minor infractions and then are deported. Their families are broken up. What threat do they pose?” he asked, as he called for policies of compassion and brotherhood.
The human toll of the arrests was dramatized by testimonials from two families whose fathers were suddenly deported. In one case federal agents invaded a home at 4 a.m., seizing elementary school-age children from their beds and transporting them to concrete cells in Erie, Pa. “The children, now back with their mother, are no longer the same”, Dahlberg said. “They are afraid to go anywhere and suffer from nightmares.”
In the second case, the father, who had worked at a local concrete plant for 16 years, begged police, who had pulled over his vehicle, not to turn him in to immigration authorities since he was scheduled to donate his kidney to his young son. The father was nonetheless deported to Mexico and forbidden to return. Dahlberg read a statement from the boy who now is on dialysis that he hopes to go to college and become a doctor some day. The mother showed a medical report stating that she was not a match to donate one of her kidneys.
“I don’t think this is the kind of community we want in Ashtabula,” she said, calling on the audience to sign a petition to Congress appealing for comprehensive immigration reform.
Dahlberg said she was “cautiously optimistic” the Obama administration would have a different policy towards immigrants.
“We now have hope, but reform will not be handed to us. We have to fight for it.” For example, she pointed to the fact that anti-immigrant forces had inserted a requirement in the pending economic stimulus package that Social Security numbers provided by workers hired for jobs projects must be checked against federal records. The system, known as e-verify, is notoriously inaccurate, she said.