Queens lawmakers and activists railed against Arizonas new immigration law, saying the legislation has cast a shadow of fear in the immigrant communities that make up about half of the boroughs population and highlights the need for a massive overhaul of the countrys immigration system.
I had just finished talking to immigrants about the Census on Friday and was saying no one will ask you about your immigration status in the Census when a constituent ran up to me and said the Arizona governor had signed the law, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) said. He said, Its over for us immigrants and I had to tell him its not over. Were going to fight this. This will bring us closer to immigration reform.
Ferreras was one of a long line of people to slam the new law that allows law officials in Arizona to ask anyone for immigration papers and detain them if suspected of being in the country illegally. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who had not publicly stated her opinion on the law prior to signing it Friday, defended her decision against accusations that the law gives officers license to racially profile.
While protecting our citizens is paramount, it cannot come at the expense of the diversity that has made Arizona so great, Brewer said. Nor can safety mean a compromise of freedom for some, while we, the many, turn a blind eye.
For Queens, a borough where at least half the population is immigrants, according to federal statistics, the law is especially alarming and has incited anger from elected officials like Ferreras and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) to such community activists as MinKwon Center President S.J. Jung and Make the Road New York Executive Director Ana Maria Archila.
The MinKwon Center is based in Flushing and Make the Road New York is in Jackson Heights.
This shortsighted law is a step backward in our nations ongoing struggle to provide civil rights for all, said Velazquez, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. This flawed law will do little to secure our border, but it will open the door to discrimination and racial profiling. Its enactment underscores the need to pass federal comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together, strengthens our border security and promotes job growth.
Immigration activists have criticized the Obama administration for not pushing immigration reform harder during the presidents first year in office and Ferreras said the Arizona law that has drawn criticism from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. David Paterson and the Mexican government will likely prompt faster action from the White House on immigration.
Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others, Obama said at a white House naturalization ceremony for active duty service members Friday. That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also said the country needed to change its approach to immigration.
I am committed to working with my colleagues to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that treats immigrants fairly, gives them a path to earned citizenship and improves border security, Gillibrand said.
Archila said the law has widespread ramifications in communities in Queens, where some immigrants are concerned something like the Arizona legislation could come to New York, and Jung said his center has received numerous calls from community members who are concerned, disappointed or frustrated by the Arizona law.
While we are glad that President Obama used his considerable rhetorical abilities to condemn this legislation before the governor signed it into law, we want to remind him that if he hopes to count on continued Latino electoral support, he needs to move beyond words and bring his considerable political abilities to the project of passing a just and comprehensive national immigration reform, Archila said.
Ferreras said despite the Arizona legislation being a major setback, she was enthusiastic to see minority groups from throughout the country working together to advocate against the law. She noted the Rev. Al Sharptons plans to bring thousands of people to Arizona to form rallies against the law he said would be reminiscent of civil rights protests.
Its an amazing opportunity to bring communities of color together, Ferreras said. I was excited to see the Rev. Al Sharpton stand up on this issue and Im looking forward to working on this with immigrant advocacy groups.