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Get-togethers aimed at uniting immigrants
Times, The (Trenton, NJ) - Wednesday, January 9, 2008 Author/Byline: ALEX ZDAN, STAFF WRITER Edition: FINAL Section: NEWS Page: A05 For immigrants, it could be a way out of the shadows. A new coalition brings together community organizations, religious congregations, city schools and the police department in a drive to educate and unite the local immigrant community. The first event will be this Monday evening at Washington Elementary School on Emory Avenue, the inauguration of planned monthly gatherings for immigrants to connect with each other and learn their rights. "We want to really release them from, in a sense, oppression," the Rev. Julio Guzman of the Living Hope Church said. Organizers who met in the conference room of the Trenton Police East Precinct yesterday evening agreed that undocumented immigrants, often confronted with the fear of being deported and uncertainty about what precisely their rights are, face challenges native-born citizens do not. City resident Carlos Avila said the fear can lead immigrants to keep quiet and submit to unjust conditions, paying too much for too little housing space because they do not know their rights as a tenant. "I think my father, my parents went through that and I don't want anyone else to go through the same thing," Avila said. Maria Juega, president of the Latin American Legal Defense Fund, said restrictions placed on illegal immigrants in obtaining driver's licenses can push those who need to drive for work farther underground. "Because immigrants are severely curtailed from accessing driver's licenses in this state, this has opened
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up a whole market of questionable IDs," Juega said. City police Detective Luis Medina shed some light on immigrants' legal rights. If a serious crime has been committed - a robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, motor vehicle accident with injuries - Medina said directives from the state attorney general require officers to ask about immigration status. "Other than that, we're not supposed to ask," he said. According to Juega, one in five city residents is an immigrant. As the overall population of Trenton has declined, the immigrant population has soared. She compares a 2 percent drop in total city inhabitants between 2000 and 2006 to a 30 percent rise in the immigrant community. Organizers hope the community get-togethers can make a positive difference. "These are the kind of events that build community and take away fear," Avila said.

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