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(Photo by Candace Braun)

UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUE: Estuardo Arriola, an immigrant who lives in Princeton, spoke out about his own views on illegal immigration at a forum held at the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, September 20. The forum, which was co-sponsored by the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, focused on the ramifications of 9/11 on the immigrant population in the U.S.

Local Experts, Immigrants Discuss Ramifications of 9/11

Candace Braun

Illegal immigration, and how the government's approach to it has changed since 9/11, were discussed by local panelists, some of whom are immigrants themselves, in a forum held at the Princeton Public Library on September 20.

The talk was the third in a series co-sponsored by the library and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF).

"The issue of illegal immigration appears as something that affects only the Latino community, but it's an American problem," said Maria Juega, chair of LALDEF. "We cannot separate illegal immigrants from the rest of the nation. They are, in fact, part of us."

Among the panelists to speak was Estuardo Arriola, a trustee with LALDEF, and an immigrant living in the Princeton community.

Mr. Arriola, who crossed the border through Mexico on his fourth try in 1987, became a U.S. citizen in 1995. He shared his own story with the library audience, telling how he's spent all his time since coming to the U.S. working and trying to get his children a good education.

While he was able to find a job within four months of his arrival, today many of his fellow immigrants living in the U.S. have been less fortunate, he said.

"We just need the opportunity to legalize our status, to prove we can work hard and integrate into society. I can prove that to my community, because I did it," he said, adding that he recently started his own business.

Mr. Arriola voiced concern for the increase in arrests and deportations, which are leaving many families without a father, and thus, without an income. While these families are encouraged to seek help from social services, according to Mr. Arriola: "We don't need anything for free. We want to work for it."

The Rev. Muriel Burrows of the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church spoke about her own experiences emigrating to the U.S. from South Africa during apartheid.

She discussed her difficulties in becoming a U.S. citizen, and how she believes that the Patriot Act has only made the process more difficult by giving the government permission to detain anyone believed to be suspected of terrorism.

"If they don't like your point of view … the attorney general can arrest you, without probable cause," said Douglas S. Massey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and an advocate for immigrants' rights.

In order to stop illegal immigration, the U.S. banned companies from hiring undocumented immigrants in the 1980s, but this method of keeping them out has failed, as many companies use a system of indirect hiring, said Mr. Massey: "They take ads out in Mexican papers asking workers to come work for them."

The U.S. treats the Mexican border very differently than the Canadian border, even though a large Islamic population lives in Montreal and Toronto, he added: "There are only a few hundred border patrol officers on the border of Canada, and a few thousand on the border of Mexico."

Marlene Lao-Collins, associate director of social concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said she believes that today's national policies do nothing but keep families apart and make it harder for those who live here.

"After 9/11 the immigrants … all wore the scarlet letter. And it wasn't an A, it was a T," she said, referring to the "t" in terrorist. "We have a moral obligation to take care of these migrants … and to welcome them with open arms."

The Rev. Burrows concluded her speech by reading a list of the 14 ways to identify fascism because she believes the U.S. government has been moving closer and closer to it since 9/11.

"I'm beginning to believe I'm back in apartheid South Africa," she said.



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