Lawyers, business owners and their allies voiced their concerns regarding state and national policies governing undocumented immigrants Wednesday morning outside Jackson City Hall.
Led by Israel Martinez, memberships coordinator of the Ridgeland-based Latin American Business Association, and Matt McGue, lead pastor of ONE Church in Ridgeland, the participants spoke out against the arrests of at least 55 people last week at central Mississippi restaurants by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.
The news conference also highlighted other immigration issues, such as anti-sanctuary cities legislation, Senate Bill 2710, and how it affects many undocumented Mississippians who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and who contribute to their communities.
“This is not a Republican issue (or) a Democratic issue,” said attorney Ramiro “Remy” Orozco. “This is not a Christian issue or an Islamic issue. This is an American issue. Our nation was built on the fabric and the backs of immigrants. … We will not stand here and sit back and watch this happen.”
Many speaking at the news conference shared how the contributions of immigrants impacts the local economy. One of those who spoke was arrested by federal officers afterward for overstaying her visa.
Vardaman resident Danna Johnson, a program coordinator for Catholic Charities Jackson’s Northeast Mississippi office, said agriculture is the main source of income where she is from, and that the industry benefits from the presence of immigrants.
“You may know the connection of the land in the life of Hispanics,” Johnson said. “This is what we do best: work the land. Really, farmers and all people really running businesses over there depend on the labor of Hispanics. This is more beneficial than you can imagine.”
Store owner Surinder Singh, who said he has lived in the United States for 40 years, stressed how immigrants are invaluable to this country.
“Whoever is talking about immigrants should ask the question themselves, ‘Where do they come from?’ ” Singh said. “I’m for the immigrant. I’m for everybody who wants to work hard, live here, and bring this country up. I’m not for criminals. If they (authorities) want to go after criminals, that’s a different thing, but don’t just round up everybody.”
Father Michael McAndrew, a Redemptorist priest of Redemptorist Migrant Missionary who works with the migrant and farmer community in the Mississippi Delta, said getting their message out about immigration is urgent due to a sense of panic that is plaguing many immigrant communities right now.
“(These communities) are ripe for a lot of fraud,” McAndrew said. “There will be fraudulent people saying, ‘I can help you. I can get you papers.’ ’’
Orozco said notary fraud will also be a major issue.
“One of the issues we recognize is local notaries who are not attorneys who are basically practicing law by assisting in the filling out of forms,” Orozco said. “Immigration law is very fact-specific. A lot of these forms are filled out improperly, which causes them to be denied and put into removal proceedings immediately. The ability to correct that at a later point is very difficult for lawyers.”
Organizers said the news conference was also a precursor to a community forum on immigration at 6 pm April 11 at the Fondren Church Gym in Jackson. They invited community members, including local police, county sheriffs and political leaders, to discuss issues important to the local immigrant community.