Rally unites interethnic voices to support immigrants

Michael Shapiro fears he may never see his only son, Vlad, again.

Vlad, 23, lives in Moscow. And though he recently received news that the United States has granted him refugee status, a proposed bill known as the Immigration Reform Act of 1995 would dramatically curtail the number of legal immigrants who could enter this country to reunite with family members.

"With the new bill, [Vlad] won't have any chances at all," lamented Michael Shapiro, a 45-year-old engineer who emigrated to the Bay Area from Moscow in 1990 and now lives in Mountain View.

"Even if he does receive the permission to enter this country to become a permanent resident and citizen, what about other people [like him]?" he said.

That concern motivated Shapiro to blast the bill before some 500 people at a Sunday rally celebrating the contributions of legal immigrants to this country.

In San Francisco Chinatown's Portsmouth Square, Shapiro and other Jews stood next to Asian Americans, who stood next to African Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Philipinos and Latinos.

Together, the diverse crowd listened to ethnic music and rousing speeches by local dignitaries, wrote letters to legislators expressing their opposition to the immigration bill, and belted out the "Star Spangled Banner."

"This country has been created by immigrants, and the diversity and the richness of their ideas and their talents has made this country the greatest country in the world," Shapiro said.

Shapiro's was one of two Russian Jewish voices that joined the interethnic chorus of speakers at the event, which was organized by a coalition of Asian and Jewish groups, including the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, Jewish Vocational Services, the Jewish Community Federation and American Jewish Congress.

John Rothmann, a San Francisco Jewish political activist, served as master of ceremonies. He opened his remarks by quoting from the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free."

"This," he said, "is what America is about."

Among other things, the Immigration Reform Act of 1995, which was proposed by Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), would limit the parents of U.S. citizens eligible to immigrate to those who are 65 and older.

"The organized Jewish and Asian communities have longstanding positions in favor of a generous United States immigration policy that emphasizes the importance of reuniting families," said Felice Sheramy, associate director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, which also helped organize the rally.

"For this reason, it was natural for us to come together to organize this rally, which celebrated the economic, cultural and social contributions of legal immigrants."

Among the speakers heralding those achievements were newly elected San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, State Sen. Milton Marks, Assemblyman John Burton, and San Francisco Supervisors Susan Leal, Tom Hsieh, Mabel Teng and Michael Yaki.

Together, they signed a banner reading "Immigrants Are Good For America." It will be taken to Congress as part of the fight against the Simpson legislation.