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Group demands apology for leaders' 'anti-immigrant rhetoric,' gets one

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A rally Tuesday in Atlantic City demanded local leaders apologize for what the group categorized as xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric at a gathering last week.

Atlantic County mayors and other elected officials from both major parties gathered in front of Atlantic City's City Hall last week to join against an unclear plan by the Biden administration to bring some of the 60,000 asylum seekers currently in New York City to Atlantic City International Airport.

Leaders in the immigrant community took issue with how some of those gathered spoke of immigrants, saying they categorized them as criminals who drain the system.

They gathered in the same spot Tuesday to call out those officials and demand apologies.

At least one came.

Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz sent out a written statement during the rally Tuesday, denouncing "immigrant bashing."

He noted that there was "bipartisan consensus and agreement that the area could not support, sustain or accommodate a massive influx of immigrants," and that "Atlantic City should not be a 'dumping ground.'"

But that consensus "was breached when some speakers resorted to 'speaking points' that targeted immigrants, used extreme rhetoric and gave a distorted view of all immigrants," Shabazz said. "We are better when we are inclusive, welcoming and open to all legal entrances to our country. The sweeping consensus that was reached should not be dimmed by inappropriate appeals to divisive forces and language."

Similar points were discussed at the rally.

"We all agree on the one fact that we do have a broken immigration system that is not humane to immigrants," organizer Cristian Moreno said, adding that there is a systemic problem in lack of resources that cannot be laid at the feet of immigrants.

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"This is the United States of America," he added. "We have space and we have compassion and we have capacity."

While many of those gathered last week used the word compassion, some did not show it, Tuesday's speakers said.

"There is no need to denigrate the people who are here because they believe in the American way," said Carolyn Rush, a Democrat opposing U.S. Congressman Jeff Van Drew. "Saying these people are criminals and terrorists and fentanyl dealers, it's ridiculous."

El Pueblo Unido President Irvin Moreno-Rodriguez said such "hate speech can lead to violence, intimidation and exclusion."

"Even those who stood quietly in the back are responsible for their words and actions," he said of last week's gathering.

Hispanic Association of Atlantic County Vice President Jessica Grullon referenced Mayor Marty Small's catchphrase of "It's a great day here in the city of Atlantic City."

"On Friday, it was not a great day," she said. "It was tone deaf and, quiet frankly, blatantly disrespectful."

Those gathered promised to keep speaking up and using the millions of votes in the immigrant community to make change.

author

Lynda Cohen

BreakingAC founder who previously worked in newspapers for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

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