More than a thousand immigrants, activists and elected officials marched to City Hall yesterday to command the attention of Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council.
"Our message to them is that it’s time to deliver bold solutions to the crisis that is facing immigrant families in New York," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, which organized the march.
While the national debate on immigration reform raged on in Washington, city immigrants marched for good schools, safe housing, affordable English classes, and better police-community relations. Their demands are nothing if not legitimate.
The marchers walked from Battery Park to City Hall to express their dissatisfaction with the mayor’s new school reorganization plan, which completely ignored parents and teachers, and failed to address the concerns of the community.
"We are marching today with parents, students and educators to tell Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor [Joel] Klein that we cannot support a reorganization plan that does not address the needs of immigrant and English-language-learner kids," said Ana María Archila, executive director of the Latin American Integration Center and vice chairwoman of the NYIC.
"Our kids deserve much better – they deserve qualified English as a Second Language and bilingual teachers, strong programs to help them learn English, full access to small schools, and appropriate support systems," Archila added.
The marchers also conveyed their concerns about the housing crisis that forces many hardworking people in the city to live in conditions that are nothing short of subhuman.
They raised their voices against the outrageous rents and the lack of effective enforcement of the housing code, which often force low-income tenants to live with no heat or hot water, old and drafty windows, leaky ceilings, cracked walls, and rat and roach infestation.
They were protesting the fact that immigrants suffer some of the worst housing conditions in New York, and that the city’s housing inspection agency does not respond adequately to their complaints.
"Too many people in our community are forced to live in housing conditions that no human being should have to endure," said Blandina Rendón, an immigrant tenant and a member of Make the Road by Walking.
"It’s time for the mayor and the Council to finally enact legislation to strengthen housing code enforcement, so that negligent landlords will have to quickly repair these kinds of unsafe housing conditions," Rendón added.
The marchers demanded Bloomberg and the City Council do their part to address immigrants’ most pressing concerns, one of which is learning English.
They called on the city to provide adequate and stable funding to expand the number of adult English classes, so the needs of the immigrant population can be met.
Despite the myth that immigrants today do not care about learning English, the fact is that the great majority of foreign-born New Yorkers understand that mastering the language of their new country is not only a necessity but a door to better opportunities.
Yet not enough affordable adult classes are offered in the city, and consequently hundreds of immigrants are frustrated in their desire to learn and to better themselves and their community.