Street alive with debate over 287(g)

July 17, 2007

By RYAN PAGELOW rpagelow@scn1.com

WAUKEGAN -- The debate over whether or not Waukegan police should perform federal immigration functions played out on the street outside City Hall Monday night.

On one side of a barrier were about 3,000 demonstrators with signs calling for "No to 287(g)".

About 250 feet away was a smaller group of about 100 people, waving American flags, demonstrating their support for local police seeking federal authority to trigger deportation proceedings for legal and illegal immigrants convicted of violent offenses.

Gus Georges, a manager at Lewis Produce grocery store in Waukegan, came with about 160 of his employees to demonstrate against 287(g). He closed his two Waukegan stores at 5 p.m. Monday, five hours earlier than usual, so his employees could attend.

He said his business has gone down more than 30 percent since the city approved the resolution June 18 to authorize the police to submit an application for two police officers to be trained for the federal program.

Lewis employees also handed out water bottles to demonstrators who arrived as early as 5 p.m. and stayed until shortly after 9 p.m. when the City Council handed down its decision not to reconsider applying to the federal program.

Heladio Nava, a butcher at Lewis Produce, said he came because he thinks existing laws already give police and federal immigration agents the power they need to deport violent criminals. Originally from Mexico, he immigrated to Waukegan 10 years ago.

"If you don't have papers and you commit a felony, you go to jail and the police call immigration. That's good," Nava said. "We don't need 287(g)."

The crowd of mostly Latino immigrants are wary of local police having the authority to start deportation proceedings. They feel it will erode immigrants' trust for police and are concerned that officers' deportation powers could expand to include people whose only crime is to live unlawfully in this country.

On the other side of the barrier, Elizabeth Berczy of Waukegan was in favor of 287(g). She is married to a Romanian immigrant and supports strict immigration enforcement, even if it means enlisting local police.

"Yes, the police need to be involved," Berczy said. "The police are going to follow the laws and the federal government will train them."

At Holy Family Parish, a special Mass, was under way to coincide with the City Council meeting with about 500 people. The Mass, attended by a half dozen Waukegan clergy and Bishop George Rassas, was meant as an alternative for people opposed to police receiving federal immigration powers, but not interested in rallying in front of City Hall.

"The proposed resolution called 287(g), to be reconsidered this very night, is intended to protect the innocent and to that degree is a good provision to the law," said Rev. Gary Graf, pastor of the parish that includes three churches. "However, given the present climate here in Waukegan, this resolution will only further cause us to think and act as 'we' and 'they,' never attempting to truly become in the process, 'us.'"

Earlier this month Graf invited the mayor to speak at the church and sign an agreement meant to clarify how the city would use authorization from ICE and to calm fears among many in the immigrant community.

Carmen Patlan, Human Concerns Director at the parish, said, "We're looking beyond today. We will continue working with our City Council and the community."


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