Homestead - South Dade

Activist groups hold protest against immigration policy

Joel Aguilera, left front, talks to members of multiple organizations to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., on Thursday. The group gathered to challenge Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter to stand with immigrant communities and come out publicly against the Department of Homeland Security’s Priorities Enforcement Program, which they say will help law enforcement agencies identify and facilitate the removal of criminal illegal immigrants in the custody of state and local officials.
Joel Aguilera, left front, talks to members of multiple organizations to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., on Thursday. The group gathered to challenge Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter to stand with immigrant communities and come out publicly against the Department of Homeland Security’s Priorities Enforcement Program, which they say will help law enforcement agencies identify and facilitate the removal of criminal illegal immigrants in the custody of state and local officials. Miami Herald Staff

On Thursday, the day of Martin Luther King’s birthday, young activist and social leaders held a demonstration outside the construction site of what will be Homestead’s new City Hall building.

Saul Aleman, a member of the Quaker peace organization American Friends Service Committee, said the assembly site was picked to challenge Homestead mayor Jeff Porter “to stand with immigrant communities and publicly come out against the Department of Homeland Security’s Priority Enforcement Program (PEP).”

“We want to make sure that our elected officials and police are on the people’s side because we pay their bills,” said Aleman, 22.

PEP requests the voluntary collaboration of local law enforcement to notify the United States Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) of all immigrants — both legal and illegal —accused of a crime.

The President’s actions focuses on deporting immigrants who threaten national security and public safety — specifically detained suspects of terrorism, violent crimes, gang activity and undocumented immigrants at the top of the deportation priority list, according to the White House.

The new program, Aleman says, is set to “terrorize and racially profile” the immigrant community.

As part of the Obama administration’s changes in immigration policy in late November, PEP was created to replace ICE’s Secure Communities program, which was widely viewed as “overreaching,” by immigrants and civil rights groups. Under Secure Communities, participating jails submitted fingerprints to criminal and immigration databases providing ICE with a detailed inventory of individuals held in jails.

The program became a divisive issue in the immigrant community after traffic or immigration violators were held by local officials and turned over to immigration authorities. Many governors, mayors and state and local law enforcement officials around the country — including Miami-Dade County — refused to cooperate and immigration enforcement became more difficult.

Despite the change, Margarito Cruz, a member of United We Dream, is calling the new program a rebranding of its predecessor.

“The language says its first priority is people who are a threat to public security,” said Cruz, 27. “The truth is that it’s a law to racially discriminate the immigrant community.”

Aleman, Cruz and members of Homestead’s Equal Rights for All, Dream Defenders, and WeCount! concluded the demonstration by leaving voicemails at the office of Mayor Porter.

Joel Aguilera, a member of the Dream Defenders, says their mission requires continued persistence and a youth lead push.

“[Martin Luther King Jr.] started in his mid-20s,” said Aguilera, 21. “As you can all see, everyone here is around the same age. I’d like to think that if he could see all the youth lead groups, organizations and individuals that have come to join all the cause, he would be more than willing to pass the torch to us.”

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