Protesters blast proposed immigration reform
By Brian Feagans, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 31, 2007
The placards reading "Secure Our Borders" and "Stop the Guest Worker Amnesty" may have been pointed at motorists Thursday.
But the mid-day protest outside the Galleria Office Park in Cobb County was really designed to grab attention 13 floors above, in the office suite of Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
"That turncoat sold us down the Rio Grande," East Cobb resident Maria Litland said, waving an American flag in the direction of the curved glass office building while standing with about 60 other protesters.
Organized by anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King, the protest was designed to turn up the heat on Chambliss and fellow Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. They are among the Senate leaders backing a controversial immigration reform compromise with President Bush.
The bipartisan measure has absorbed a barrage of criticism from both the left and the right since being unveiled earlier this month. Conservatives say it's too soft on border security and the estimated 12 illegal immigrants currently in the country. Liberals say it would break up immigrant families and give illegal immigrants incentive to remain in the shadows.
Chambliss and Isakson have acknowledged the plan isn't perfect but say it's far better than the status quo. They insist the measure would require that the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border be secured before the other reforms, such as the creation of a temporary worker program, could be put in place.
Protester Melanie Williams of Duluth said no matter how it's dressed up, the Senate compromise would send a clear message to other people considering illegal entry into the United States. "People will sneak in and think 'Oh, I'll just wait for the next amnesty,'" Williams said.
Participating in her first-ever protest, Williams said she's fed up with the people who have crammed into the home across the street from her in Gwinnett County. She suspects they are in the country illegally. At one point there were 30 people in the house and 10 cars in the driveway, she said, holding a banner that declared "We are America - Attrition Through Enforcement."
A handful of counter-protesters gathered across the street with "Welcome, We Are All Immigrants" signs. Mableton resident Rich Pellegrino, who organized the group, said considering the lack of immigration enforcement over the last two decades, it's disingenuous to now expel the people who build houses and pluck chickens in Georgia. Pellegrino said he's gained new respect for the Georgia senators.
"When a politician takes a stand that's not popular with his constituency," he said, "that is a statesman, not just a politician."
But most of those standing at the corner of Akers Mill Road and Galleria Drive had soured on the senators they once backed. They held signs such as "No More Anchor Babies" and "Illegal aliens displace U.S. workers."
"If they vote 'yes,'" said Georgia Minutemen organizer Todd Walker, "it's political suicide."
DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, who is running against Chambliss, shook hands with the protesters and told them he wanted to hear their concerns. Pressed on what he'd do differently, Jones said he'd insist on the enforcement of existing immigration laws.
King, the protest organizer and president of the Marietta-based Dustin Inman Society, exchanged business cards with Jones before accompanying 30 or so other protesters up to Chambliss' office. Though the senator was not present, they met with one of Chambliss' field representatives. Many wore bumper stickers on their backs. They read "Kick Me! I am a Citizen."
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