Immigration Reform Road Trip Kicks Off In New York City; Organizers Call For Comprehensive Law In 2010
February 16, 2010 By Roque Planas
NEW YORK — With immigration reform losing impetus, reform advocates are not just taking to the streets — they’re taking to the road.
A group of twelve immigration reform advocates, suitcases and sleeping bags in hand, gathered for a press conference Monday before heading off on a five-day road trip organized by the New York Immigration Coalition. The caravan will visit ten cities throughout New York state, where the participants will meet with other reform advocates, community organizations and elected officials, hoping to convince them of the need to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year.
Saúl Linares, a Long Island factory worker who took part in the road trip, said in an interview that he supported comprehensive immigration reform because the current system makes life difficult for undocumented workers.
“These are people who have been working here for a long time, paying taxes, learning English, no criminal record,” Linares said, referring to undocumented immigrants.
At the press conference, the participants in the caravan told personal stories of their experience with immigration.
Osmán Canales, a 21 year-old immigrant from El Salvador and an immigrants’ rights activist, said he decided to participate in the caravan because growing up in New York City he witnessed hate crimes committed against immigrants, as well as the economic vulnerability that comes along with being undocumented.
“It is time to give equal rights to everyone in this country,” Canales said.
Several of the speakers voiced opposition to the practice of raiding workplaces to detain and deport undocumented workers.
“In the course of this five-day trip, nearly 5,000 people will be deported and more than 5,000 will be detained, and we’ll be no closer to a workable, common-sense immigration system that serves the national interest,” Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition Chung-Wha Hong said in a press release.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) removed 356,739 undocumented immigrants from the country in 2008, according to the most recent information available on the agency’s Web site.
The New York Immigration Coalition favors legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, reforming the visa granting process, targeted punishments for repeated violations of immigration and labor law and respecting all peoples’ due process rights.
President Obama indicated last spring that he would make comprehensive immigration reform one of his priorities for 2010, but has since retreated from the issue.
At his State of the Union speech on Jan. 27, he said, “We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”
While Obama’s comment indicated that his attitude toward immigration remains unchanged, he mentioned the topic only briefly toward the end of the speech and did not make specific recommendations to fix the problem, reinforcing the perception that immigration reform will not be one his priorities in 2010.
With the Democratic party having lost its supermajority in the Senate and its future uncertain in upcoming mid-term elections, immigration reform faces an uphill battle in Congress as well. The inability of the Congress members to reach consensus is one of immigration reform’s greatest obstacles.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, has been working on a comprehensive reform bill that has yet to materialize.
“Now I’ve said all along, even before last Tuesday with the Massachusetts election, we need a bipartisan bill — two Democrats and two Republicans to produce it,” Schuman said at a press conference on Jan. 28, referring to immigration reform. “We’re not there yet. We’re still working on getting our Republicans, but we’re talking to people who have a lot of interest and enthusiasm, and our intention is to move forward,” Schumer said.
Linares was disappointed that Obama had softened his position on immigration reform. “One year later, he’s not talking about it anymore,” Linares said.
Margarita Casaine, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic in the 1980s, said she joined the road trip out of sympathy for workers who became separated from their families not only by distance, but by the long hours many undocumented immigrants must work at low-paying jobs in order to make ends meet.
Though Margarita currently works an eight-hour day, when she first came to New York she said she worked 16 hours a day. “I saw my kids when I got up and when I got home they were asleep,” Casaine said.
Several participants in the road trip and attendees at the event also said they supported the DREAM Act, a bill that would grant in-state tuition to students in the state of their residence regardless of their immigration status. The House version of the bill has 106 co-sponsors and the Senate version has 32, but no action has been taken on the bill since it was introduced in March of last year.
“I am undocumented myself, and it (the DREAM Act) would allow me a way to go to college and obtain citizenship,” said one of the attendees, who had been born in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved to New York when he was eight years old.
For Evelyn, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, immigration reform is a matter of personal security and planning for the future. She grew up in New Jersey, but pays out-of-state tuition because, unlike New York, the state does not recognize undocumented immigrants as residents for tuition purposes.
“So now, I’ve run out of money. I want to continue school, but I can’t do much in Jersey,” Evelyn said.
“I can’t drive, I can’t travel even within the country because of the fear of being deported,” Evelyn added. “I can’t do most of the things my friends do.”
Images: Roque Planas