ROCHESTER — While U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials held a recruitment session Aug. 16 at the Clarion Hotel on East Main Street, a group of local activists gathered outside the hotel to highlight the need for federal immigration reform as well as fewer raids and deportations of local migrant workers.
During the rally, which was organized by the Rochester Alliance for Immigrant Rights, more than 20 people held up signs and chanted such statements as, “No to persecution. Yes to citizenship.”
Alliance member Roberto Resto said that border patrol works with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to arrest migrant workers as part of carrying out “the laws of the land.” But, he contends, “we are not lawful when (ICE officers) railroad men and women through the judicial process, without adequate representation or a full understanding of their rights.”
Meanwhile, border-patrol officials say their job is to protect the United States and its citizens from anything that enters the country’s borders illegally, said Joe Arata, assistant director for recruitment for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“Our mission is to protect this country and … protect the rights of the protesters,” Arata observed as he pointed to the group holding the rally. “This is the United States. People are allowed to protest.”
Some of the immigrant advocates at the rally questioned the need to provide potential border-patrol recruits with such taxpayer-funded trinkets as whistles, some of which were labeled “Made in China.”
Courtney Cenname of Rochester pointed out that the border-patrol recruits who say they are just trying to get a job have the same goal as migrant workers who comes into this country. Cenname also said that she believes racism, such as the targeting of Hispanic migrant workers, becomes more prevalent when America undergoes an economic downturn.
“Right now, they’re the scapegoats,” said Cenname, a member of the International Socialist Organization, which works with the Rochester Alliance for Immigrant Rights. “Who’s to say (migrant workers) don’t deserve the same rights as American workers?”
During the border patrol’s recruitment effort, which began Aug. 13, Arata said about 150 people had signed up to become officers and 75 additional people had come through as of midday Aug. 16.
Gino Fantigrossi of Spencerport said that he came to the Aug. 16 recruitment session to learn more about the job opportunity because he believes a border-patrol officer’s mission is to keep Americans safe from terrorist attacks and illegal drug trafficking.
He also said that he could support an immigration program where officials conducted background checks on workers who could come in on a temporary basis to work.
“If you want to come to America, try to do it legally,” he said.