As the immigration reform debate commands greater attention in Washington, D.C., immigrant communities in New York and across the nation gathered at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South at Thompson Street, on Jan. 13 to demand passage of legislation this year.
"In the course of a year, 400,000 immigrants are detained, 350,000 are deported, and those numbers only continue to rise. How many more hundreds of thousands of families are going to be kept in the shadows, uprooted, and torn apart before our president and leaders in Congress follow through on their promises?" said Ms. Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, lead organizer of the rally.
"While we are encouraged to see some legislative progress, it needs to pick up speed. We have a solid bill introduced in the House; the ball is in Senator Schumer’s court to introduce a similar bill in the Senate; and we call on President Obama to lead on this issue."
"As we approach the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration, we remind the president that immigrant communities expect him to deliver on his promise to enact immigration reform. Immigrants won’t be taken for granted," said Ana Maria Archila, coexecutive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant community group with offices in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
Speakers at the rally highlighted the case of Jean Montrevil, a Haitian immigrant community leader and father of four American-born children whose fight against imminent deportation has sparked urgent grassroots action in recent weeks.
"Jean Montrevil’s case illustrates the unfairness and lack of due process in our immigration system. It’s a system where people can be punished retroactively using laws that weren’t even on the books when they were initially detained. Restoration of due process is a threshold issue for any immigration reform bill," said Angela Fernandez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
"All workers in America have a tremendous stake in seeing that comprehensive immigration reform is passed this year," said Sussie Lozada, a community organizer with the New York Civic Participation Project. "We need reforms that restore fairness in the workplace, ensure that all workers have legal status, and guarantee that minimum wage and labor standards are effectively enforced."
During the rally, participants noted that:
·Immigration reform makes good economic sense and is good for business and workers alike: A recent study found that comprehensive immigration reform would generate a cumulative $1.5 trillion in additional gross domestic product over 10 years and boost wages for native born and newly legalized workers alike; mass deportations, conversely, would reduce GDP by $2.6 trillion over 10 years.
· The Obama administration, while taking steps to move immigration reform forward, has also continued and even expanded Bush-era enforcement measures
· Deportations rose nearly 50 percent between 2003 and 2008, and have risen 18% during the first year of the Obama administration
· The annual budget for the U.S. Border Patrol has increased 714 percent from 1992 to 2008, and the cost of each border patrol apprehension has risen exponentially ($272 per apprehension in 1992, versus $3,012 in 2008)
· Enhanced enforcement has had a deadly effect: 5,607 migrants died between 1994 and 2008 crossing the border (through ever more treacherous terrain)
· The government has long operated the detention system without transparency or accountability; last year, the administration acknowledged that more than one in 10 immigrant detention deaths had been omitted from a list submitted to Congress.
With more than 200 New Yorkers in attendance at Manhattan’s Judson Memorial Church, the event began with a moment of silence for the people of Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake there.
Participating organizations included African Services Committee, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Cabrini Immigrant Services, Churches United to Save and Heal, El Centro del Inmigrante, Families for Freedom, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Young Leaders Program, Hudson Valley Community Coalition, International Center of New York, Local Laborers 78, Local Laborers 79, Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Make the Road New York, May 1st Coalition, MinKwon Center for Community Action, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, New Sanctuary Movement, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Civic Participation Project, New York Immigration Coalition, New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform, New York State Youth Leadership Council, Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrants Rights, Pakistan USA Freedom Forum, Queens Community House, Reconciliation and Culture Cooperative Network (RACCOON), SEIU 32BJ, St. Mary’s Church, The Sikh Coalition, and The Workplace Project.