New Yorkers Demand Urgent Immigration Reform

These are anxious moments in America. There is a government shutdown, and a looming battle between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over the national budget and the raising of the country’s debt ceiling is just a few days away. A default could hurt the fragile economy and make life very difficult for many middle class families.  But even more worrying for millions of undocumented immigrants across the country is the fate of the Immigration Reform Bill which passed by a bipartisan 68-32 votes in the US Senate in June this year.  Debate on the bill which looked certain to be signed into law this fall, has stalled in the Republican controlled House of Representatives, prompting many immigrant communities to demand action.

In New York City, thousands of people participated in a rally at Cadman Plaza and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Saturday for “Immigrant Dignity and Respect”.  The program was organized by “New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform” to put pressure on elected officials to act.

“There is clearly a desire by the immigrant community to have this reform happen that gives everyone a path to citizenship,” said Angela Fernandez, Executive Director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, one of several organizations that coordinated the events.  “We are hoping that the government shutdown does not impact the Immigration Bill.”

The events were part of a larger protest staged in 150 cities and towns in 40 states across the country, designed to send a message to congress in support of  “common sense” reform.

Immigration Reform Rally (photo courtesy Associated Press)

“We want John Boehner and Eric Cantor to put an immigration bill on the floor right now so that the House will vote on it,” said Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union. Henry said thirty House Republicans who indicated their willingness to vote for common sense immigration bill this summer might live up to their promise, considering the overwhelming national support for such a bill.

“House Republicans have got to decide whether they want their caucus taken out from their jobs next November,” she added.

Meanwhile, House Democrats tabled an Immigration Bill last Wednesday and sought to revive debate on the legislation, despite the current political stalemate over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise referred to as “Obamacare”.

Democrats project that comprehensive immigration reform would create more than three million jobs, reduce the deficit by $800 billion, strengthen the middle class and provide an earned path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

But Republican lawmakers are reluctant to support any reform that provides undocumented immigrants an automatic path to citizenship. They also demand that reform must include strong and effective border security and surveillance.

“The reform is so important to us, the so-called dreamers, that’s why we are here fighting,” said Edher Cabrera of Million Dreamers. The organization represents undocumented young adults who were brought to the United States while they were children. Cabrera, 28, has lived in the US for 14 years after arriving from Mexico. He is one of about half a million youngsters who qualified under the Obama administration’s DREAM Act, last year to stay and work in the country.

“We are still a long way yet from becoming citizens,” he said. “We want to have good education and better opportunities in life to be able to help our families.”

The administration has implemented an aggressive deportation policy, targeting thousands of undocumented immigrant families over the past few years. The Senate will put a halt to such deportations.

Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s 27 percent in the November 2012 presidential election, which renewed the Democratic president’s mandate at the White House for another four years. The vote prompted a re-examination of the Republican Party’s approach to attracting minority voters particularly from the Latino community, which represents the largest demographic block in the United States. But the Republican controlled House does not seem to be speaking the same language with the RNC on immigration  reform. It has largely remained adamant about introducing a bill on the issue.

“This is likely to continue for a while, because it has clearly become a blame game and no one is taking responsibility,” said Debora Wilks of Diron Rutty, LLC, New York, specialists in Immigration Law.

Wilks said with the government shut down, “economic and budgetary issues have taken the momentum out of the immigration debate.”

She added that, unfortunately, the undocumented immigrants “continue to suffer because they cannot receive their work permits, and those who have been asked to go back to their home countries remain stranded.”

Wilks argued that immigration campaigners must now focus their attention on getting their local elected officials to fully understand these problems. “There is so much focus on border control and less attention on the problems faced by undocumented  immigrants who are already in the country,” she said.