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More ethnic groups to join immigration rallies

Asians, Haitians and Africans say they plan to join Latinos in today's 'National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice'

By Darryl Fears and Krissah Williams

WASHINGTON - The recent demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of immigration supporters appeared to have one distinct face: Latino.

But members of Asian, African, Haitian and other ethnic groups say that is an illusion that they will dispel by pouring out in large numbers at huge rallies planned across the country today.

Koreans said they will march in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, banging traditional protest drums. Chinese said they will parade out of Chinatowns in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, led by marchers wearing colorful dragon costumes. Haitians said they will be heard in Miami and New York, and Africans said they will be among the tens of thousands who will gather at the Washington Monument.

The protests, dubbed the "National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice," are backed by an array of immigrant-rights groups -- local Latino advocacy organizations, labor unions and religious institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church.

The rallies began Sunday with more than 350,000 people marching peacefully in downtown Dallas, according to The Dallas Morning News, along with smaller demonstrations in Miami; Fort Worth, Texas; St. Paul, Minn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Boise, Idaho.

A big majority of people living in the United States illegally -- 80 percent -- come from Mexico and Latin America. Another 13 percent are from Asia, Africa and other nations, and 6 percent are from Canada and Europe, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

But as Latino grass-roots organizations made their case in news conferences and organized protests that drew hundreds of thousands, other immigrant groups said they feared being ignored.

At a recent Capitol Hill news conference to announce plans for today's marches and to show solidarity among immigrant groups, churches, unions and traditional civil rights groups, there were no Asians or West Indians and only one black representative, local union leader Emil Abate.

"All of what is happening around immigration reform in the country is not a Latino-originated movement at all," said Deepa Iyer, executive director of the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, a national group based in Silver Spring, Md. "There are also Asian and African groups working together. From where I stand, I feel that our community is greatly invested in the issue."

Asian groups have become particularly concerned about immigration as the United States steps up its efforts to deport illegal Chinese and Korean immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security recently said that it is close to an agreement with China over the repatriation of about 39,000 Chinese immigrants.

Korean activists said that families have been torn apart when immigrant parents were deported while their American-born children remained in the United States.

Helen Gym of Asian Americans United in Philadelphia said Latinos are better organized, in large part because of their common language. Communicating with Asian groups is a daunting task.

"You have to distill massive amounts of legislation, measures and news, and then you have to translate into your vernacular for Asian immigrants," she said. "In Philadelphia alone, there are three major Chinese dialects: Cantonese, Mandarin and Fujianese."

In addition, there are Vietnamese, Korean and Tagalog, the language of many Filipinos.

The immigration legislation proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., caught the attention of Asians who "come to the country and don't want to rock the boat," Gym said.

But the arrest of Zhenxing Jiang, a pregnant Chinese immigrant who contended that she lost twins while in custody, stirred a hornet's nest among Asians nationwide, Gym and other activists said.

"She enabled us to make the message clearer," Gym said. "All you had to say is 'What happened to Mrs. Jiang?' and people got it."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who arrested Jiang strongly denied that she was mistreated, but Tuyet Le, executive director of the Asian American Institute in Chicago, said Asians there are fully aware of her case.

Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.

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