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Press Conference Stresses Importance of Contributions of Immigrants

By: Katherine Massopust

Patricia Campos, Co-Director & Extension Associate, Union Leadership Institute, The Worker Institute, Cornell University ILR

PERTH AMBOY – On 2/21/17 there was a press conference at the City Council Chambers addressing the issues of immigration. Patricia Campos, Co-Director & Extension Associate, Union Leadership Institute, The Worker Institute, Cornell University ILR spoke first and conducted the press conference. “The studies of the impact of immigrants are shown on the website www.NewAmericanEconomy.org It is time for advocacy on social and economic matters. We face the massive deportation of 8 million undocumented immigrants.”

Copa De Oro owner and founder of P.A.M.A. (Perth Amboy Merchants Association) Reyes Ortega spoke next, “I came to Perth Amboy when I was 16 years old. I have 4 children and 9 grandchildren. I’ve run a business for 28 years. This Immigration issue is bigger. It will separate families, children left behind. That’s sad. Come out very loud and say it.”

Leo Cervantes who came to America from Mexico in 1989 and made a name for himself. He is the owner of Chilangos Restaurant in Highlands and La Playa in Keansburg. “I was approached by Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno to announce her candidacy for Governor in my restaurant. We have events on the beach such as a rodeo and concerts. I embraced the culture, learned the language. To be united; we’re all the same – all human. In 1989 it was a wonderful experience. Now – people are afraid. I’d like it to go back to normal.”

Campos then came back to the mic and added, “The organization is a coalition of 500 Mayors. Immigration reform should be bipartisan. Immigrants are an integral part of the country.”

Angela Mejia spoke next. “I am the daughter of formally undocumented immigrants who ran away from violence in Colombia. There’s one doctor, one fashion designer and other professions (in my family). Immigrants are coming to this country. Taking the rights away of individuals are the first step in taking away the rights of everyone.”

Emmanuel Diaz, Micro Finance Loan Officer of the Intersect Fund spoke next. “My father came from the Dominican Republic. I was born in Perth Amboy. We need to unite. Our dream is unity – in response to my community and the American Dream.”

Luis O. De La Hoz, Vice-Chair of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce came up to speak next, “If one or two small business owners hire one or two employees, everyone will be employed. We believe is the best way to get out of poverty is to invest in businesses and grow them.”

Campos then stated, “There are over 2 million immigrants in New Jersey. 21% of New Jersey are immigrants. That’s $20 billion in taxes and $55 billion in spending power. A majority of immigrants are entrepreneurial women. We advocate in the issues. It’s about creating awareness. Most salons and restaurants are owned by women. I am the daughter of an Ecuadorian and Dominican. Women want to come here and work on their own. How do we change the rhetoric? What changes people’s minds are stories. My story is on the website www.NewAmericanEconomy.org You can agree that immigrants contribute to this economy.”

Congressman Frank Pallone spoke next: “What happened today (2/21/17) – Homeland Security put out a new document. I just got it this morning. If immigrant officials see any undocumented immigrants they can send them back. Under President Obama it was just people with felonies. So far, President Trump hasn’t repealed DACA. (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy started by the Obama administration in June 2012 that allows certain illegal immigrants to the United States who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.) We need to explain in a positive way that immigrants are important to this country. For years I have advocated a bipartisan effort under President Bush. Immigrants can be put on a pathway to citizenship. Today there is a new path in anti-immigration policy. Historically, walls don’t work. The most famous wall was the Berlin Wall. The wall was torn down (in 1989). In 1492 Spain was a great power. Within 100 years, Spain became bankrupt. Isabella and Ferdinand II expelled (many immigrants). People and ideas were expelled (with them). Many went to the Netherlands and they flourished. Walls don’t help. By excluding people that want to work hard and if you exclude immigrants and people of the opposite view, it doesn’t work. These policies don’t work. In orders today, encouraging police to round up undocumented immigrants – will lead us in the wrong direction. In Perth Amboy, your leadership (Mayor Wilda Diaz) is crucial to resist Trump’s policies.”

(L to R) Activists from East Brunswick, Emmanuel Diaz, Luis O. De La Hoz, Patricia Campos, Leo Cervantes, Reyes Ortega, Angel Mejia, Congressman Frank Pallone, Mayor Wilda Diaz
*Photos by Katherine Massopust

Campos then said, “I commend Wilda Diaz on her policies.”

There was a brief question and answer period next. Congressman Pallone answered a question on executive orders: “Regarding refugees, they can’t come from countries that are primarily Muslim. The Executive Orders now are on hold. The one issued today from the Department of Homeland Security refers beefing up enforcement. My concerns are there’s more widespread. I’ve read it. My interpretation is it is not a good thing. People call me up. They have green cards and are here legally. They are worried about being deported. This will have a ripple effect on everything. When talking about the economy, things are fragile.”

The next question was on reports of seeing people deported. Mayor Diaz answered: “Those rumors are false. There is no truth to it. Executive Orders come with consequences. The reality is we are seeing that some people are living in fear. Some undocumented immigrants are sending their children to come out (e.g. going to the store or running errands) because they are citizens. Children are afraid that their parents will be deported. People are confused. We need to be vigilant on what goes on.”

Campos said, “The Resistance New Jersey page (resistancenj.com) states what actions and steps to take for all of our communities. The Latino Community includes a lot of registered voters. We want the election in 2018 to be organized. We’re going to have voter registration drives by door-knocks and protect ourselves with good information.”

The next question was: “How do we educate people on the importance of registering to vote?”

Campos answered, “My organization is nonpartisan. The most powerful way is to knock on a door. You can tell a lot about a community and what goes on.”

Question: “Is cooperation with different Immigrant Groups helpful to these causes?”

Campos answered, “It’s a strategy for some, but not all. A lot of people want to be engaged and spread the word. The best thing they can do is not to isolate themselves. Only then can we can help them. Turn fear into the resistance.”

Question: “What can people do?”

Campus answered, “People want to do something. There is Resistance Training on fighting back. We can be creative on how to resist. The Community has to do something and engage the people. It’s very important to tell the people. We have a social responsibility.”

Question: “What about the consequences?”

Pallone answered, “I don’t think it’s any different. Immigrants have fueled this country. They come and are excited. Deporting them hurts the economy. I believe we’re all created equal. The idea to exclude someone by race, religion, etc. is Un-American. We don’t want to stifle that. When society stifles that, they suffer.”

Angela Mejia then said, “For you to leave your country (and come here), you are highly motivated. Passing on that same motivation goes way back to our ancestors who were very motivated.”

Pallone added, “My grandparents were Italian. They were tenant farmers. My Grandmother could read and write in Italian. Here is a person who was more educated and motivated and wanted a better life.”

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