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Know Your Rights
Source: NYIC
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Hundreds Gather to Build Momentum for Dream Act

Hundreds of community members joined Rep. Nydia Velazquez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, chair of the CHC’s immigration task force, for a rousing rally in Brooklyn to ramp up momentum for the imminent vote on the DREAM Act during the lame duck session. Participants also intensified their calls for the President to take executive action to end senseless deportations and put an end to programs that enlist local law enforcement officers as immigration agents.

“We should not be foolish enough to think that deporting more than one thousand people a day is not tearing apart families, devastating communities, and fraying the moral fabric of our society,” said Rep. Gutierrez to the hundreds gathered at St. Brigid’s Church in Bushwick. “We can take a stand by passing the DREAM Act and putting a stop to the fantasy that we will deport 12 million immigrants from this country. We should not punish the children, and we must stop deporting their parents. It is a simple case of what’s right and what’s wrong, and every Member of Congress can vote for what is right by passing the DREAM Act,” drawing thunderous applause from the audience.

“With the leadership of Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, we will bring the DREAM Act across the finish line,” said Rep. Velazquez, who is largely credited for unifying the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as its chair during the last two years. “And we can do this because there is unity among immigrant youth, immigrant communities, labor unions, faith communities and the American people, who want to give our children the chance to achieve their American Dreams. DREAM Act is an important down payment for broader reforms.”

At this critical juncture during the lame duck session, House and Senate leaders plan to bring DREAM Act to a vote as soon as November 30th, and the President has lent his support to making sure it passes. The DREAM Act would allow young people who have been here at least five years, are of good moral character, and have graduated from high school to earn a path to citizenship through attending college or military service.

And with the likelihood of increasing partisan divides in Congress in the next session, speakers urged the President to assume the mantle of leadership by taking executive action to reverse the trend of ever-increasing and broad-based enforcement. Under his administration, deportations have reached a record high—400,000 this year alone—and have targeted hard-working immigrants and family members who pose no threat to public safety—the very people the President has said should be allowed a chance to come out of the shadows and earn a path to citizenship.

“Until we have comprehensive immigration reform that fully addresses our immigration crisis, there is plenty that can happen now to begin to create a fairer, smarter immigration system,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “Congress can pass the DREAM Act now, and, with the stroke of a pen, the President can move us toward a system that respects human dignity, bolsters the economy, and targets its resources wisely.” The Coalition has launched the “With the Stroke of a Pen” campaign, which has already galvanized thousands of supporters committed to sending pens and letters to the White House, urging executive action.

Speakers also united in the call to stop the criminalization of immigrants and programs that turn local enforcement officers into immigration agents. A review of one such program, Secure Communities, which ostensibly targets immigrants with serious criminal convictions, found that fully 79% of those deported under the program had no criminal record whatsoever or only minor infractions such as traffic violations. At the same time, the City of New York has allowed federal immigration agents into Rikers Island, where individuals, who have not been convicted of a crime, are identified for deportation. Speakers called on the Governor and Governor-Elect to rescind the Secure Communities agreement and on the Mayor to get ICE out of Rikers, and commended Council members Mark-Viverito, Dromm, and Rodriguez for leading efforts against such programs.

“With the unchecked presence of ICE at Rikers, Mayor Bloomberg is allowing New York City to serve as a gateway to the same broken immigration system that he is working to change,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “As long as ICE continues to have access to everyone, regardless of their innocence, immigrant New Yorkers will fear the police. We urge Mayor Bloomberg to stand up for immigrant families and for the safety of all communities and put a stop to the City’s facilitation of unjust deportations.”

“This is the moment for the enactment of common sense and humane immigration policies at all levels of government,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Right here in New York City, our correctional facilities are serving as a pipeline to inhumane detention centers, and nationally we are separating more families than ever. Meanwhile, immigrant youth have courageously fought for the passage of the DREAM Act for a decade to no avail. As immigrant communities and allies made clear today, we are ready to hold accountable those leaders who were elected on pro-immigrant platforms, from Mayor Bloomberg to President Obama, as we await action on these critical reform measures.”

At the event, the crowd responded to the call to action by placing calls from their cell phones to Capitol Hill to press their representatives in Congress to pass the DREAM Act. They also joined the “With the Stroke of a Pen” campaign, signing letters urging President Obama, with the stroke of a pen, to reverse course on the destructive immigration policies and practices that have held sway in recent years. Several hundred letters were collected, which will be sent to the White House, along with a pen.

“We saw how decisive the Latino and immigrant vote was in key races in the midterm elections,” said Estela Vazquez, executive vice president of SEIU Local 1199. “Our leaders—whether in the White House, on Capitol Hill, at the state house or city hall—need to know that immigrant communities will be continuing to build their electoral strength, getting folks registered and mobilized, and leveraging that electoral power to hold our government accountable on immigration reform.”

To continue to gain steam for passage of the DREAM Act at the end of November, Rep. Gutierrez said he is headed to Los Angeles the day before Thanksgiving for another faith-based DREAM Act and immigration reform rally organized by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.