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THE HERALD-SUN: The quest for justice and peace

By Gregory Childress

The 25th Annual Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace came to town Thursday spreading its message of fairness and justice for workers and immigrants.

The focus of this year's event is on what organizers say is the unfair criminalization and deportation of immigrants.

The event is organized each year by Witness for Peace Southeast and a coalition of more than 50 organizations and churches.

Gail Phares, Pilgrimage founder and longtime human rights activist, said the nation must stop criminalizing its immigrants.

"We've been hearing testimony as we've walked along during this time from immigrants whose mothers have been taken off, whose husbands have been taken off -- people who have lived here since they were children," Phares said in an interview in front of the UNC administration building.

Phares and others were critical of Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which authorizes local law enforcement agents to enforce federal policies on illegal immigrants.

They contend local authorities often overstep the law's mandate, which calls for detention of illegal immigrants involved in "violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses narcotics smuggling and money laundering."

"The sheriff's are using it to pick up people who don't have driver's license, they're just misdemeanors," Phares said. "287 (g) is just outrageous and they're using it to make money. Every immigrant they get, they get money from the federal government. They're filling up jails."    

A 2009 study conducted by the Human Rights Policy Clinic at UNC and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina found authorities abused the law, using it as cover to engage in "racial profiling" of Hispanics.

The agencies found that police officers in North Carolina stopped motorists because they appeared to be Latino and then checked their immigration status, which violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.

But law enforcement officials and others who support the law contend it helps to prevent crime by removing dangerous criminals from communities

Alicia Torres, 25, of Carrboro, said undocumented immigrants are being mistreated and must become more vocal in speaking out against abuses.

"We need action," Torres said. "That action needs to come from those people affected by it."

Torres also cautioned immigrants about making a hero out of Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) who is on a national tour to spotlight deportations and the impact they have on families. He spoke in Charlotte on Wednesday.

"Please stop," Torres urged those she says are placing Gutierrez on too high a pedestal. "We are all heroes."  

After the rally and speeches at the South Building, the marchers walked 2.8 miles to El Centro in Carrboro, an agency that offers translation, mediation and other services to non-English speaking Hispanics to help them navigate daily life.

To read the article in the Herald-Sun, click here.