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Face-Off On Immigration

Reform Bill Draws Over 60 Demonstrators

June 26, 2005
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer

Immigration activists won the street protest numbers game Saturday morning in downtown Hartford as they faced off with a group seeking tighter controls. But passions ran high on both sides.

Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control turned out about 15 people to protest Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's co-sponsorship of an immigration reform bill, which they label as an amnesty for those here illegally.

They marched on the sidewalk in front of Constitution Plaza, where Lieberman has an office, bringing a letter opposing the bill and signed by 100 state residents and about 225 people from other states.

No one from Lieberman's office was there to take the petition, but more than 50 immigration activists held a counter-demonstration across Market Street in front of the Old State House.

It was a replay of an encounter between the two groups in May, when a Connecticut Citizens meeting in West Hartford was overwhelmed by counter-demonstrators organized by the Ad Hoc Committee for Immigrants' Rights, a coalition of religious, labor and immigration support groups.

Paul Streitz, a Connecticut Citizens leader, said he "wasn't too happy with the other guys showing up and horning in on our parade" Saturday. His group was smaller, he said, but will distinguish itself as the immigration debate becomes an entrenched part of Connecticut's political landscape.

"They vote, but they don't go out and do rousing demonstrations," Streitz said.

Supporters of the bipartisan bill, written by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., insist it is not an amnesty, yet provides a controlled way for undocumented immigrants to work in the U.S. legally.

Regardless, there was little specific talk about the bill on either side of Market Street Saturday. But the issues that add heat to the immigration debate - jobs, security and the societal changes that accompany immigration - were present.

John McGowan, a Danbury resident dressed as Uncle Sam, led the Connecticut Citizens group down Market Street. As they passed a construction site, he shouted, "You guys legal?" to about a dozen men wielding shovels who appeared to be Hispanic.

He said he asked because of "the look of their nationality."

"People don't want to have racial profiling in our country," he said. "I'll tell you what. Only one race bombed the Twin Towers."

Another marcher, Elise Marciano, echoing a sentiment expressed by many in the group, said she has no problem with immigrants, but illegal immigration was weakening the country.

"They are living off the services we pay for with our taxes," said Marciano, the president of the group's Danbury chapter.

Four Hartford police officers kept the two groups separate and the demonstrations were peaceful, although there were a few brief verbal confrontations.

Werner Oyanadel, a legal analyst for the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, ventured across the street briefly. He said undocumented immigrants provided labor the state needs. Many of them also must deal with laws that can give some members of a family legal status, while others are outside the law.

"You can't say you're against illegals and for immigrants," he said.

Although accurate statistics for the number of undocumented immigrants are hard to find, the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., recently estimated there are 55,000 to 85,000 in Connecticut.

Joe Neverisky said the cheap labor market undocumented workers create makes it difficult for him to make a living in construction and landscaping. Those workers - and Americans who hire them - are able to "low ball" him on jobs, he said.

"They're taking food off my table," he said.

Putting food on his family's table is why Francisco Reyes said he came to the United States from Peru four years ago, leaving his wife and three children behind. Although he has no visa, he works three jobs, including cleaning offices at night. Thanks to adult education classes in Hartford, he is learning English.

"We don't take the jobs they want," he said. "What American wants to clean?"

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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