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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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