July 18, 2014

Immigration debate plays out on I-30 bridges in Arlington

Protests against illegal immigration and counter-protests are expected this weekend across the nation.

Tarrant County highway overpasses formed a stage for the national immigration debate Friday as anti-immigrant protesters and pro-immigrant advocates took their different messages to Interstate 30 drivers.

On the Davis Street bridge in Arlington, dozens of protesters called for tighter borders while carrying U.S. flags.

“No amnesty,” said Kelly Canon of Arlington on the Davis Street bridge. “No comprehensive reform until the borders are completely secured.”

A short distance away, at an overpass on Fielder Road, pro-immigrant groups also waved flags but in support of immigration law reform.

Joanna Cardoza, 36, of Arlington said she was concerned about the plight of thousands of undocumented youngsters from Central America.

“These are children who are running away from circumstances beyond their control,” Cardoza said. “I think we should be more compassionate and loving.”

The anti-immigrant protesters have designated Friday and Saturday as “National Days of Protest Against Immigration Reform & The Illegal Immigration Surge!”

More than 30 anti-immigrant protests were scheduled in Texas. Members of the Arlington Tea Party, Arlington Republican Club and Overpasses for America participated in the Friday protest.

“If you come into this country legally, from any country, we don’t have a problem with that,” said Rick Presley of Arlington. “If you sneak into this country or try to get into this country illegally, and I have to — as a taxpayer and my kids have to as taxpayers — pay for you and pay for your well-being and your schooling and your medicine and your food, we have a problem with that.

“A nation without any borders is no longer a nation.”

The protesters were countered by more than 50 people presenting a different viewpoint. They chanted, “ Si se puede” (Yes we can) and carried signs saying “Welcome All Children.”

“We are not asking for amnesty. Our message is immigration reform,” said Maria Robles of the group Arlington Proyecto Unido.

Many of the messages being presented in the media seem unwelcoming of immigrants, Robles said.

“Our city is very diverse,” Robles said.

Lawmakers are grappling with how to address an influx of undocumented youngsters at the U.S. southwestern border. Figures provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection indicate that 57,525 unaccompanied alien migrants, up to age 17, have been apprehended at the border this year.

Federal authorities have estimated that as many as 90,000 children may arrive before the end of the year. The children are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They have told authorities they are traveling to the United States to escape violence or abuse in their homelands. Some are trying to reunite with families living in the United States.

Earlier Friday, a small group of anti-immigrant protesters flashed signs at people who drove past Burnett Park in downtown Fort Worth. Their signs stated “Stop the Invasion” and “Our children and Vets Come First.”

“Nationwide, we are against amnesty,” said Heidi Smith, a member of Overpasses for America North Texas. “We are against this invasion. We feel our Americans should be taken care of first.”

Arlington police were notified that protests were planned on the overpasses.

The participants were not allowed to affix anything to the fence or to impede or block traffic, said Sgt. Jeffrey Houston, a spokesman for Arlington police.

Fort Worth police likewise were notified about the protests and planned to have a presence at Fort Worth sites to “ensure the safety of the protesters, counterprotesters and anyone else at the event,” said Sgt. Raymond Bush, a Fort Worth police spokesman.

Authorities ask protesters not to break traffic laws. For example, people should stand on the sidewalks, when possible, so they don’t impede traffic on roadways.

Bush said people on both sides of the issue have told police they plan peaceful and respectful protests.

“The Fort Worth Police Department respects the right of free speech,” Bush said. “We greatly appreciate that the courtesy and professionalism both sides have shown by contacting us before they held these events.”

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