Immigrants arrested at 'coming out' rally
About 200 people speak out about policies they say discriminate against the undocumented among them.
By Franco Ordoñez
Posted: Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2011
Police arrested at least 10 young illegal immigrants as they blocked traffic near Central Piedmont Community College Tuesday to protest policies they say discriminate against undocumented immigrants.
Nearly 200 people met on CPCC's central campus for a 1 p.m. "coming out" rally in which some protesters publicly announced they're living in the country illegally.
The group then marched around the school toward the intersection of Kings Drive and Fourth Street. The large group proceeded to block all four directions of traffic while chanting "education, not deportation" and "undocumented and unafraid."
As Charlotte-Mecklenburg police converged on the group, seven young people stepped into the middle of the intersection. One 25-year-old from Carrboro grabbed a bullhorn and announced:
"My name is Alicia Torres and I'm risking it all. Today is the day that I am coming out of the shadows and saying I exist. I am no longer going to be afraid. I am no longer going to wait around and watch my mom pray."
Before she could finish, officers encircled Torres, grabbed her arms and handcuffed her.
The protest was the latest in a series of rallies where undocumented students announced their status publicly to raise awareness.
The Tuesday protest was organized by the N.C. Dream Team, a Raleigh-based group of students, most of whom live in the country illegally. They called for passage of the Dream Act - legislation that would provide a path to legalization for some young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. The bill has been introduced several times in Congress without success.
The students are known for their aggressive tactics. They have organized rallies and hunger strikes. They've confronted legislators. This spring, they took part in a similar protest in Atlanta where two of their members were arrested and later released.
A total of 15 people were arrested at the Charlotte demonstration. Police said all were charged with impeding traffic and disorderly conduct. Two were also charged with violation of the noise ordinance.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Capt. J.W. Estes said their main goal was to protect the protesters. He said there was no violence and no one was hurt.
"They just wanted to get their point across," he said. "We understand their efforts, but we have to enforce the law. We can't take sides."
According to organizers, the following undocumented students were arrested, in addition to Torres: Angelica Velazquillo, 25, of Charlotte; Manuel Vazquez, 21, of Raleigh; Santiago Garcia, 20, of Asheville; Cynthia Martinez, 20, of Sanford; Viridiana Martinez of Sanford; Martin Rodriguez, 20, of Hamptonville, N.C.; Isabel Castillo, 26, of Harrisonburg, Va.; Mohammad Abdollahi; and Marco Saavedra, 21, of Cincinnati.
All the arrested individuals were taken to the Mecklenburg County Jail for processing. The sheriff's office said individuals identified as being in the country illegally will be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Advocates for stricter enforcement say giving these students a path to legalization would only give illegal immigrants further incentive to break the nation's laws and create more competition for legal residents.
This will be one of the first chances to see how a new Obama administration policy on illegal immigrants is implemented. The administration announced last month that those without criminal records - who are found to be a low priority because they are students, were brought here as children or have long family ties to the country - would be released and granted work permits.
Organizers of Tuesday's rally said it was not a coincidence that the protest is occurring one year before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Just minutes before she was arrested, Viridiana Martinez said the Democratic Party has given the immigrant community false hope. It needs to be held accountable for failing to follow through with its promises, she said.
Angelica Velazquillo, who graduated from South Mecklenburg High School and Belmont Abbey College, knew she was risking deportation Tuesday. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in psychology, but says she's can't work in her field because of her status.
Her brother, Erick Velazquillo, was arrested last fall for driving without a valid license. He faced deportation until the N.C. Dream Team launched a public awareness campaign on his behalf. His case was administratively closed, but he could still be deported. He was not given a work permit.
"I'm doing this because I'm tired of hearing wonderful words," she said at the rally. "The reality is, nothing is going to happen. This is a way of reminding our community that we're here. ... If I'm going to be deported, I'm going to do it because of the injustice my community is facing."