Latinos on Opposite Sides of the Immigration Debate Square Off in Manhattan

With slogans like "Stop the Deportations" competing with "Hispanic Against Illegal Aliens," demonstrators on opposite sides of the immigration issue took to the streets in Union Square on Sunday, which was May Day.

Both sides included Latinos, reflecting the diverse views on illegal immigration in the community.

The two groups at times engaged in yelling at each other, sometimes hurling insults.

The crowd that favored a change in immigration policy that would help undocumented immigrants argued that they work in jobs others will not do. But those protesting against undocumented immigrants described them as lawbreakers who should not even be referred to as "immigrants."

One of the most vociferous protesters on the side against undocumented immigrants was Nicaraguan-American Joanna Marzullo, who runs NY ICE, New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement. (NY ICE, a private group, is not related to ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government agency.)

Marzullo took issue with the assertion by advocates that those who want strict immigration enforcement are racists and xenophobes.

Holding a sign that said "Hispanic Against Illegal Aliens," Marzullo said: "Today we are here to counter protest illegal aliens who once again this year are trying to stampede their way into amnesty."

Marzullo's group advocates for the enforcement of existing immigration laws. They believe the government already has the tools to crack down on those who enter illegally and to do a better job of stopping others from coming in.

“I should point out and always have emphasized that illegal aliens are not immigrants.," Marzullo said. "Immigrants have to go through a process where they get screened for all sorts of things including diseases and criminal histories. Illegal aliens bypass that process when they illegally jump the borders or they illegally over stay their visas.”

May 1 is a traditional date for pro-labor demonstrations. Immigration advocates in the United States latched onto the celebrations in 2006 in an effort to drum up support for a federal comprehensive immigration reform measure that would include both enforcement as well as a pathway to legalization for certain undocumented immigrants.

Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations took place around the country on Sunday.

"You are not legal!" Marzullo yelled. "You are illegal aliens. Illegal is not a race and NY ICE defies you!"

Latinos on the other side of the issue reacted angrily toward Marzullo.

“It is so humiliating for her to stand here wearing that sign on the day of workers,” said Maria Toro, a Peruvian immigrant who studies at Hunter College.

“She calls herself Hispanic and she doesn’t even speak the language," Toro said, visibly angry. "All these laws in Arizona about racial profiling are targeted toward Latinos. You shouldn’t stand against your own people.”

For Marzullo, getting reactions such as Toro’s is not unusual.

“I’m called many racist and sexist names,” Marzullo said. “The other side resorts to name calling because the facts are on NY ICE’s side.”

“I’m very passionate about my city. This is where I was born and raised. It’s my home and I'm going to fight for the future of my home,” she added.

Marzullo says NY ICE wants people to understand that coming into the country illegally does not make you an immigrant.

“They are trying to confuse the public when they pretend to be immigrants,” said Marzullo. “NY ICE is the only group in NYC which actually stands up for immigrant rights.”

Toro asked Marzullo if she understood the catastrophic poverty in which those who enter the country illegally find themselves back home.

“They come here because of the extreme poverty back home,” Toro said. “They come to clean bathrooms and get any jobs they can to survive.”

Still, Marzullo disagrees with Toro, saying that Latinos should come here the legal way. She echoed many Latinos who oppose a change in immigration policy that would give the undocumented a chance to get legal status if they meet certain criteria, such as pay a fine, have no criminal record and show they've paid taxes.

“Illegal Immigrants are a slap in the face to true immigrants,” Marzullo said. “I know that it’s hard coming here the legal ways and it could be arduous.”

“I’m an American of Latin American descent whose family did have to go through the process," Marzullo said. "I stand up for them today and that fuels me to stand up for them every time."

“I stand up for them and every legal immigrant who goes through the process and feels insulted for those illegally here.”

You can reach Alexandra Gratereaux at:

or via Twitter: @GalexLatino

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