Monday, May 01, 2006

Immigrants Protest At City Hall

Three city taxi companies closed for the day and protesters waved flags and chanted slogans outside City Hall as Plainfielders took part in a national immigrant boycott.

Sponsored by the Latin American Coalition and supported by El Asociation de Taxistas y Chofers de Plainfield, the protest grew to about 100 people by early afternoon.

Although the Plainfield group was mainly Hispanic, coalition president Flor Gonzalez said the demonstration was for the rights of immigrants from all over the world.

"We are supporting new legislation that could legalize or give papers to everyone in the country, regardless of what country they come from,“ Gonzalez said.

A mason named Elijio said he took a day off without pay to join the protest and Gonzalez said several Hispanic restaurants were closed for the day.

Protesters wore Uncle Sam hats and had red, white and blue ribbon loops pinned to their clothing. A young girl handed out sparkly flag stickers and almost everyone waved small American flags. A large image of the Statue of Liberty was tied to a column at the top of City Hall’s steps, flanked by a large American flag. Red, white and blue balloons bobbed in a brisk wind as the group chanted , “Si, se puede” - “Yes, we can” - and “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido“ - A community united never can be conquered.“

Another chant in Spanish translated to “We are not one, we are not one hundred, we are millions - count us right.“
Among the placards held up to traffic along Watchung Avenue, one read, “We are not criminals.”

James Boyd, an African-American artist and historian, took a turn with the bullhorn to speak in support of the immigrants.

Boyd said he worked with city civil rights leaders including the late Rev. Frank Allen, founder of the Plainfield Branch NAACP, and the late activist Marshall Brown.

“I’m for the immigration rules concerning criminality being eliminated,” Boyd said.

Plainfield’s Latino population began to swell in the 1990s and is now generally considered to be at least one-third of its more than 47,000 residents. The city unsuccessfully tried to reach a count of 50,000 for the 2000 census and officials blamed the failure on the reluctance of some immigrants to be counted.

The 50,000-mark would have given the city direct access to federal funds for housing and social services without going through Union County.

With the nationwide protests and massive marches, it seems nearly all immigrants are coming out of the shadows. Gonzalez said she believes immigrants will take part in the 2010 census.

She said the issue of immigration affects many families where some members may be American citizens and others are not. As immigrants protest their treatment, her T-shirt highlighted the message of the Immigrants Rights Defense Committee: “March Today, Vote Tomorrow.“

--Bernice Paglia


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