NEW YORK — A warm and sunny afternoon brought out around 150 protesters to the steps of New York’s City Hall to gain momentum for the March 21 immigration reform rally in Washington D.C.
The press conference, organized by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), encompassed leaders of immigrant, ethnic, labor and faith communities from throughout the state. NYIC anticipates over ten thousand New Yorkers will attend the rally.
The rally in Washington. seeks to address the increase in deportations under the Obama administration, and the lack of immigration reform promised under the presidential campaign.
“There can be no more political double-talk,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of NYIC. “March 21st is the deadline. Obama has to announce concrete steps towards immigration reform,” she said.
The steps of City Hall were decorated with signs reading “Change Takes Courage,” “Stop Deportations!” and “Reform not Raids,” among others. Protestors alternated between chants of “Yes We Can!” and “Si Se Puede!” Several of the leaders spoke only in Spanish.
Various New York City council members joined the protesters. Councilwoman Margaret Chin, former chair of NYIC, spoke in English, Spanish and Chinese, saying, “it’s about time. We need comprehensive immigration reform now. President Obama, you promised!”
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito echoed the sentiment, calling the current immigration policies “not only unjust, but inhumane.” She, along with Councilman Mathieu Eugene, will join the more than 200 buses that will descend on Washington on the 21st.
Community leaders represented organizations such as the African Imams Council, the Alianza Dominicana, the Organization of Chinese Americans (which now represents Asian PacificAmericans), Out4Immigration, a gay and lesbian immigrant grassroots group, and an interfaith network. A reverend from an Evangelical Latino organization said that immigration policy as it is “cannot stand. Promises have been broken,” he said.
Hong emphasized the diversity of the immigration cause, noting that the issue affects Latino, Asian, Arab and Russian immigrants. “Every day, hundreds of people are signing up in schools, church basements, union halls, and online,” she said. “We will not stand by while friends and family are subjected to deportation, home raids, and unfair wages.”
Members from local labor unions also attended the rally, including Anthony Williamson, a member of the executive board of Construction and General Building Local 79, who sparked the crowd and led their chants.
“This is the most historic moment,” Williamson said. “We organized over ten thousand laborers. This is the moment laborers will come together; this is the time to stop deportation and abuse.” Williamson said that his union alone is sending at least 500 union members and their families in 10 buses to the rally in Washington.
Williamson emphasized that immigration reform is key to aiding a struggling national economy. “It’s important in this dire economy to get these undocumented workers to be documented. There are thousands and thousands and thousands who are not paying taxes and it hurts the economy. [Immigrants] need to pay into our tax structure,” he said. “These brothers and sisters came to live the American dream, and they are part of the American dream.”