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K.C. protesters call for immigration reform

Scott Lauck//February 17, 2009//

K.C. protesters call for immigration reform

Scott Lauck//February 17, 2009//

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Kansas City’s federal immigration court hasn’t yet brought in its first live judge, but it’s already been the focal point of a protest.

The Immigration Justice Advocacy Movement, a faith-based group in Kansas City, held a prayer vigil Monday in a park across the street from the court, which shares a location with Lathrop & Gage’s headquarters at 2345 Grand.

Laurie Anderson, the group’s president, said the vigil was one of several planned across the country by various groups pushing for humane immigration reform.

“What’s happening right now is it’s a state-by-state issue,” she said. “Clearly we can’t have federal law legislated by 50 different states.”

The immigration court officially opened in September but still has no judge serving in person. John O’Malley, a former Jackson County Circuit judge, is currently in training and will take the bench there March 2.

Angela Ferguson, an immigration attorney with Austin & Ferguson in Kansas City and a founding member of the Immigration Justice Advocacy Movement, said she hoped the combination of an in-person judge and public proceedings would help her clients.

“You might have a fairer hearing because you’re actually talking to an individual instead of a screen,” she said. “Talking to a talking head is not a good way to make them feel what kind of pain you went through when you were getting persecuted.”

Representatives of the immigration court, which is run by the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The demonstration included prayers, singing and speeches provided in both Spanish and English. Several men wore prison-striped outfits and chained themselves together. One of them, Florentino Camacho, said the outfits were a protest of the treatment of accused illegal immigrants in Arizona. Several members of Congress last week asked the Justice Department to investigate tactics by a Maricopa County sheriff who has been accused of racial profiling and has employed such tactics as parading shackled detainees through the streets of Phoenix and issuing them pink underwear.

“It’s a human rights issue and a civil rights issue,” Camacho said.

Missouri Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, has worked on a number of state-level immigration reforms, including laws passed last year requiring greater use of the E-Verify system by businesses to check employees’ immigration status and allowing local law enforcement to inquire into criminal detainees’ status.

Nolte agreed with the demonstrators’ general premise that immigration reform should be a federal initiative.

“If the federal government would step up to the plate and deal forthrightly with the issue, it wouldn’t be necessary for state-to-state action,” he said. “But the federal government to date hasn’t really addressed the situation with any kind of adequacy.”

Nolte said he wasn’t familiar with the accusations in the Arizona case but said Missouri’s system would not condone “deliberately humiliating” someone.

“I believe law enforcement here in Missouri are going to conduct themselves in a professional manner,” he said.

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