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Protest brings a crowd at Federal Building

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Marina Piña of Somos Un Pueblo Unidos, at left, and Fabiola Romano, with megaphone, speak to people gathered at a Saturday rally in front of the Federal Building and U.S. Court House on North Richardson Avenue. The event was part of the nationwide “Families Belong Together” rallies protesting U.S. immigration policies. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Shouting “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos, “El pueblo vive, vive vive; la lucha sigue, sigue sigue,” and many other Spanish and English slogans, about 60 people gathered in front of the Federal Building and U.S. Court House on North Richardson Avenue Saturday afternoon to take part in the nationwide “Families Belong Together” rallies protesting federal laws and policies that separate children from their families during investigations of illegal immigration.

“We are a crucial part of the economy of our communities,” said Marina Piña, “but we are not treated with the respect and dignity we deserve for our contributions to these rural communities.”

She said the group demands an end to family separations, deportations and raids of workplaces by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.

“We also are here to protest the recent votes of (U.S. Rep. Stevan) Pearce,” Piña said. “He keeps saying that he does not support family separations, but then he votes for it in D.C.”

Piña is the southeast New Mexico coordinator for Somos Un Pueblo Unido, which organized four New Mexico rallies in Farmington, Gallup, Santa Fe and Roswell, with 300 people expected to attend in total. The Roswell location was chosen because ICE recently opened an office in the federal building.

Another four events in the state were planned by different groups, and nationwide more than 700 rallies had been scheduled, according to the Families Belong Together website. The movement is supported by more than 100 organizations.

The immigration issue is expected to play a big role in upcoming elections, including the gubernatorial race between Pearce (R-Hobbs) and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Los Alamos), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Somos representatives said they specifically object to Pearce’s votes for House Bill 4760, Securing America’s Future Act of 2018, and House Bill 4136, Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of  2018, because they continue to allow some deportations and family separations. Neither bill passed the House, and Lujan Grisham voted against each one.

Regarding his June 27 vote on the Border Security bill, Pearce gave a statement that said that the bill provided “positive steps in the right direction,” regarding immigration issues, although not the answer he personally would have developed.

“I firmly believe that, as Americans, we must treat all people with respect. This includes families who risk everything to come across our borders seeking hope, freedom and prosperity,” he said. “The compromise bill undeniably makes positive improvements. It provides a permanent solution for (Deferred Action on Child Arrivals)  — something I have been calling for since the day (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions ended the program — it includes a permanent solution for families crossing the border; it works to secure the border through technology, not a wall; and modernizes the green card process.”

Several people talked at the Roswell rally, some with tears in their eyes describing the pain children and parents are experiencing as they are kept in “cages” and parted from each other.

Fabiola Romano of Hobbs said she came to the rally because family separations are “happening not just at the borders, but in our backyards,” affecting friends, families and coworkers.

She also said her efforts regarding the issue include registering new voters and and helping immigrants become citizens so that they can vote in elections.

Romano said concerns about such issues as the costs of immigration need a better solution than family separations, often referred to as a “disincentive” to illegal border crossings.

“Let’s find a solution that is not about separating kids from their families. Sometimes these are people who have been here for years, but, for one reason or another, they have to return to Mexico and then they get caught when they try to come back.”

A local nonprofit that serves the families of people incarcerated, Main Things First, takes the position that, while the law needs to be honored, some resolution of conflicts needs to occur in order to be compassionate to children and parents.

“The undocumented immigrants and their children at the borders may find themselves in a similar situation as the families of the incarcerated Americans,” said group founder Ron Biggers. “I do believe that we can all agree that the children matter.”

Law enforcement officers were present during the rally, but a spokesman said he could not comment regarding what protestors said, some of which was highly critical of law enforcement and ICE officers.

“We are there exclusively to make sure of the safety and security of  those demonstrating on federal property and ensuring the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights,” said Rob Sperling, public affairs officer with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.