STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — With the support of City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, Staten Islanders advocated for comprehensive immigration reform at an interfaith forum of about 100 people on Monday morning at St. Clare’s Church in Great Kills.
Staten Islanders from Muslim, Christian and Jewish houses of worship and various other non-profits attended the forum, where organizers were mobilizing for an immigration reform march sponsored by Alliance for Citizenship on April 10 in Washington, D.C.
“As a state that has led the way on several progressive issues in the past, it is time for us to be vocal about comprehensive immigration reform and protect the dreams and prospects of our hard-working immigrants,” said Ms. Quinn, who sent a representative to the forum.
“By passing the New York State Dream Act and allowing undocumented immigrant students, who satisfy certain conditions, to be eligible for state tuition-assistance and educational opportunity programs, New York State can show leadership on immigration. In doing so, thousands of future doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and teachers throughout New York will be able to access higher education and contribute to our city and state.”
On the city level, the Council has supported Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the New York Health Employment Coalition, CUNY Citizenship Now, the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative and limits to cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Several immigrants gave personal accounts of their families being stressed and in some cases torn apart by actual or threatened deportations. Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association, raised the alarm about the potential deportation of her husband and many members of the Liberian community when the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) is set to expire at the end of March.
An estimated 17 million families have a member who is an undocumented worker and an estimated 4.5 million children have an undocumented parent, said Gonzalo Mercado, president of the Staten Island Immigration Coalition and executive director of El Centro del Inmigrante in Port Richmond.
New York plays a crucial role in immigration reform on the national level since U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer chairs the Senate subcommittee on immigration and is one of eight senators from both parties who are collaborating to craft immigration reform proposals. President Obama has made immigration reform a top priority in his second administration, and with bipartisan support for such changes in the senate, now is one of the best opportunities in recent years to pass legislation, said Daniel Coates of Make the Road New York.
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and a member of New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform, asked churches to sponsor voter registration drives and to welcome immigrants to speak about their issues to their congregations.