Many were shocked when Arizonas controversial state immigration bill was signed into law April 23, fearing that immigrants there would be discriminated against simply because of their skin color, but immigration reform advocates from Queens who gathered at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Manhattan Thursday morning said Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the citys Department of Corrections commit the same kind of discrimination almost every day.
Some of those immigrants refused to eat for three straight days to protest the Arizona law, New York City illegal immigration policy and inaction on immigration reform by Congress and President Barack Obama.
About 40 members of the group Make the Road New York, many of them said to be undocumented immigrants themselves, arrived at the church and told stories of the persecution they themselves have faced because of the citys policy on illegal immigration.
One Honduran man, who did not identify himself, said he was once arrested and sent to Rikers Island, where he was confronted by ICE. The citys charges against him were dropped, but he still faces scrutiny from ICE.
I am now under the watch of immigration enforcement even though I didnt commit a real violation, he said in Spanish with an English translator. There are many other people like me. Until we change this policy, we cannot say that New York City is for everyone.
The activists claimed once an illegal immigrant is arrested in New York City and sent to Rikers Island, city government has a policy of turning those individuals over to the federal governments Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, where they usually face deportation. Oftentimes, charges against those immigrants are dropped, but they are usually deported anyway, being forcibly separated from their families and friends, according to Make the Road New York.
The issue of immigration has been defaced, said Juan Carlos Ruiz, a minister and activist in the New Sanctuary Movement, which supports amnesty for illegal immigrants. People have been forced to hide in the shadows, but God knows each one of us by name. Our rights as human beings cannot be taken away like papers.
City Council members Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) both spoke at the rally, criticizing the mayor for promoting and praising the citys immigrant community publicly, but enforcing a policy against undocumented immigrants that creates fear and division.
I went to a dinner last night where [Bloomberg] spoke very eloquently about the diverse people in our community and the food thats available, Dromm said, standing in the church pulpit in front of Make the Road protesters as they held pro-immigration signs and banners.
We can no longer accept saying one thing and doing another, he said. The Department of Corrections and the mayor must be held accountable. When [the mayor] talks about the beauty of this community, the diversity of the immigrant community, being a community of immigrants, we need to hold him accountable.
Ferreras said the mayors cooperation with ICE is financing the reverse of the Underground Railroad.
We are not only addressing something happening far away in Arizona, she said. We are addressing something happening right now, in our city, in our borough.
Bloombergs office could not be reached for comment.
Last Thursdays rally was part of a week of amped-up citywide protests coordinated by immigrant rights organizations like Make the Road and the New York Immigration Coalition, among others, including church and labor union groups all trying to put pressure on Washington and the president. For the last three weeks, protesters have been intentionally stopping traffic outside the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service building, at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, during a series of civil disobedience protests, which resulted in 109 arrests, according to the coalition.
Norman Eng, the coalitions director of communications, said his organization supports Make the Roadsefforts and agrees with their views on the citys policy regarding arrested illegal immigrants.
I think that the campaign Make the Road is doing concerning the Department of Corrections is an important one, he said. I think in a lot of ways, Mayor Bloomberg has adopted a lot of very positive policies for immigrant communities, so I think in some ways theyve done some things very good. In other ways, their is some room for improvement.
When asked whether Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill before the end of the year, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), a leading advocate for reform in the House, said he is committed to that goal.
I appreciate the grassroots efforts over the last week to raise awareness of the need to address this issue, Crowley said in a statement. If left alone the situation will only get worse with more people illegally crossing our border, more immigrant workers facing exploitation and more American workers suffering as a result.