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Hundreds March Across Brooklyn Bridge to Rally Against Arizona Immigration Law

By Patrick Hedlund | July 29, 2010 3:04pm | Updated on July 29, 2010 2:02pm

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — Hundreds of demonstrators marched across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan Thursday to protest Arizona’s controversial new immigration law that took effect the same day.

Dozens of organizations representing church, immigrant-rights and labor groups gathered en masse in Brooklyn before streaming across the bridge and into Foley Square.

Despite a federal judge’s ruling Wednesday that overturned many of the law’s more contentious points, opponents of the legislation still signaled the fight is far from over.

“It’s a good start, but it’s not enough,” said Rafael Samanez, 32, of Harlem, director of the Bronx-based group Vamos Unidos, which advocates for street vendors’ rights.

“Whatever happens in Arizona eventually makes its way to New York.”

Samanez explained that members of his organization have been separated from family members while crossing the Arizona border, but that the threat to New York is as real as it is there.

“Immigration has done raids in our community, terrorizing our community,” he said. “We live under constant fear.”

Clergy and parishioners from Greenwich Village’s Judson Memorial Church joined the march to combat the “hatefulness” behind the some of rhetoric coming from the law’s proponents. 

“In the Bible, no rule is more often mentioned than welcome the stranger among you,” said Michael Ellick, 36, the church’s associate minister and a Village resident.

“This is a country built on the possibility that immigrants can come here and build a new life. Obviously you and I are not from here. That dream is not over.”

Ellick added that the recent ruling against the law “represents the hearts and minds of a lot of people, not only in Arizona.”

The demonstrators were met by a counter-protest in Foley Square from a smaller contingent of the law’s supporters.

Illegal immigrants are “undermining the American way of life” by working for lower wages in this country, said Jim Behan, 69, of the Upper West Side. “They should not be in this country.”

Waving Arizona flags and yelling at the demonstrators to “go home,” the counter-protesters called for the arrest and deportation of any illegal immigrants in attendance.

“Start checking IDs and see how many of these guys leave,” said Norman Coben, 60, of the Lower East Side.

He called the judge who challenged the law “a product of idiocy, who is sidestepping it so she doesn’t have to bear the weight of the decision.”

Nonetheless, Coben maintained his position is not about personal prejudice.

“This has nothing to do with racism whatsoever,” he said.

Protesters of the law argued that immigrants are particularly vulnerable during times of fiscal crisis.

“Historically in the United States, the toughest immigration policies have been in economic downturns,” said Ateo Peruyero, 22, of the Bronx, a member of the CUNY student organization Arizona Boycott Coalition, which plans to protest at the New York Mets weekend series with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field.

“It creates the conditions of super-exploitation because of the actual fear,” he added. “They’re everyday life is dictated by the fact that they’re illegal immigrants.”

Many contended that the broader focus should remain on comprehensive immigration reform to prevent New Yorkers from facing a similar situation as in Arizona.

“This is stuff that’s affecting not just people in Arizona, but right here in New York,” said Janis Rosheuvel, 32, executive director of Families for Freedom, which helped organize the march.

She explained that undocumented immigrants in New York could face deportation due police collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Any police stop basically puts you on the conveyor belt to deportation,” she said. “That collaboration is a dangerous and unsafe one for our community.”