Tens of thousands of hidden New Yorkers emerged from the shadows yesterday to demand federal legislation that would make the American Dream a reality for millions of undocumented immigrants.
They streamed across the Brooklyn Bridge and marched down Broadway from Chinatown and Washington Square Park chanting, “Who’s America! We’re America!” in English and a dozen other languages.
Marching to the beat of Korean drummers and waving flags from Mexico, Trinidad, Poland and myriad other countries, they were united by a dream shared by earlier immigrants – a dream as red, white and blue as the U.S. flags they also carried.
“The No. 1 message here today is we are America,” said Chung Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, one of the rally organizers. (Make the Road by Walking is a member of the NYIC.) “We’re here and we’re here to make America strong.”
At City Hall, the crowd cheered as New York political leaders vowed to kill a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would turn illegal immigrants into felons and build a fence on the Mexican border.
An overhaul of a new immigration law stalled in the Senate last week.
“Your faces are the faces of America,” Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) declared.
Similar scenes played out across the U.S. yesterday as crowds marched in front of the White House and in the streets of Atlanta, Houston and more than 100 other cities to rally on behalf of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
In New York, the traditional gateway for immigrants, organizers put the crowd at more than 100,000. The throngs, at one point, filled Broadway from City Hall to Canal St.
About 2,000 cops were assigned to keep the peace at the rally, which ran from 3 p.m. to about 7 p.m. on a picture-perfect day. There were no immediate reports of any major incidents or counterdemonstrations.
Among the marchers were U.S.-born children of illegal-immigrant parents who have set down roots in New York.
“We are marching for our right to live free – we deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone,” said Mei Lu Jin, 31, a Chinatown grocery store owner and a daughter of illegal immigrants. “We are all immigrants in this country. We’re all Americans.”
Miriam Jang, 19, an NYU student and daughter of undocumented immigrants from Korea, said, “This country is built on the idea that it welcomes all. “We can’t just shut out the rights of millions,” she said. “The immigrants in this country keep it running, and we need to protect them.”
Rolando Munoz, 42, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, marched across the Brooklyn Bridge carrying a sign written by his English-speaking son that read, “Our only crime was following the American Dream.”
“My dream is to be a good father for my family,” said Munoz, who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and is struggling so that his 20-year-old son can be the first in his family to graduate from college.
Carlos Perez, 21, said his parents brought him here from Guatemala a decade ago. A psychology major at CUNY, he said he’s hamstrung because his parents still haven’t been able to obtain green cards.
“I had to work in restaurants instead of getting internships because even if a company wants to sponsor me, they can’t,” said Perez, of Freeport, L.I. “I have to leave classes early sometimes because I’m afraid I’m going to get fired.”
Keisha Drummond, 29, of the Bronx, a Jamaican in the U.S. on a work visa, complained that the current system “makes us criminals because we want a better life.”
“A lot of people were afraid to come out here because they’re undocumented, they don’t want to get in trouble,” Drummond said as she clutched a Jamaican flag. “But not me. I took off work early. Hopefully, what we’re doing will make a difference.”
Donald Arne, a 28-year-old Haitian immigrant, said a couple of hecklers yelled “Go home” as he marched down Broadway bearing a U.S. flag. But he didn’t care.“I feel that we’re Americans,” said Arne, of the Bronx. “We’ve united all our flags under one flag, the American flag.”