New York Protesters carrying signs declaring "Justice and Dignity for the Immigrants" and "Reform Not Raids" converged inside the Judson Memorial Church, in New York City’s Washington Square Park, on Wednesday to demand immigration law reform in 2010 as part of a rally set up by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).
Members from various immigration organizations from the New York City area, including Cabrini Immigrant Services, Families for Freedom and El Centro del Inmigrante, marched into the church chanting "Yes We Can."
As members from the organizations representing immigrants from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East settled into their seats, the main talking point of the rally was the Obama administration’s promise of immigration law reform.
"The reason we are here is because we can’t wait," said Janis Rosheuvel, the executive director of Families for Freedom, who added, "The reality is we are waiting for reforms that are coming too slowly."
President Obama promised to change immigration laws in 2009, but the same policies are still in place. 2010 is the year that real reform needs to be put in place, said Chung-Wha Hong, the executive director of the NYIC.
"In the course of a year, 400,000 immigrants are detained, 350,000 are deported, and those numbers continue to rise," according to Hong, who added, "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 (Charles) Schumer’s court to introduce a similar bill in the Senate; and we call on President Obama to lead on this issue."
Senator Schumer (D-NY), the Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, is tasked with creating a bipartisan immigration reform bill, after he took over the role from the late Senator Ted Kennedy.
Last summer, Schumer outlined seven key points that the reform bill would need to address. Some of these points included curbing illegal immigration, family reunification as a key value of the immigration system and the registration of undocumented aliens as a path toward United States citizenship, according to Schumer’s website.
In December of last year, members of Congress introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP) to the House of Representatives. The act, introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), addresses some of the concerns raised by Senator Schumer, such as family reunification, employment verification and improving conditions in detention centers, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
While many seemed pleased with the idea of a more gentle policy toward immigration, which focused more keeping families together and granting due process to undocumented immigrants, the slow pace of the legislative process seemed the main point of contention.
"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 Ann Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York,an immigrant community group in New York.
The bill enacted must be passed within the year, must address the fundamental principles of family unification, due process and paths to citizenship and must be one that unties people rather than dividing people, Hong added.
Many of the speakers at the rally emphasized the case of Jean Montrevil, a Haitian immigrant, who is currently held in Pennsylvania’s York County jail on a 21-year old drug charge. Montrevil’s case added more significance to the immigration debate as the rally occurred only a day after a massive earthquake shook Haiti and left thousands dead.
"Even though it is a tragedy in Haiti, I believe it is a wake-up call," said Janay Montrevil, the wife of Jean Montrevil, who added that President Obama needs to create a clear path to citizenship for illegal immigrants so that what happened to her husband does not happen to others.
"I should not have to explain to my children why daddy is not home," she said.
Montrevil faces deportation stemming from a drug offense in 1989, for which he served 11 years. He is now in jail waiting to see if he is eligible for deferred action, which would allow him to stay in the United States, according to his wife.
"Jean Montrevil’s case illustrates the unfairness and lack of due process in our immigration system," said Angela Fernandez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. "It’s a system where people can be punished retroactively using laws that weren’t even on the books when they were initially detained."