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National Day of Dignity and Respect pushes immigration reform

Craig D. Frazier | 10/10/2013, 4:29 p.m.
On Saturday, New Yorkers joined concerned citizens nationwide to mark the National Day for Dignity and Respect. Thousands of supporters ...
Bill de Blasio speaking at the Oct 5. National Day of Dignity and Respect in New York City Photo by Craig D. Frazier

On Saturday, New Yorkers joined concerned citizens nationwide to mark the National Day for Dignity and Respect. Thousands of supporters for an immigration overhaul flooded downtown Brooklyn to pressure Congress to focus on legislation leading to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants despite the shutdown in Washington.

The rally and march across Brooklyn Bridge, organized by the New Yorkers for Real Reform, brought a coalition of business, labor, religious and law enforcement groups demanding comprehensive immigration reform. The crowd at Cadman Plaza, which included a legion of speakers, became the voice of 11 million undocumented workers in this country who are looking for a pathway to citizenship.

“We have to make sure that our voices are loud today. We want our elected officials to know that the time is now,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. “Today we march for every mom and dad who has been deported. We march for every dreamer that deserved the same opportunity as us. We march for every immigrant family in the United States.”

A union official said that in order to build an economy that works for all working people, there should be basic rights for immigrant workers. “I am here to say that my union is proud to be in solidarity with community organizations, faith leaders, other unions and elected officials, who are fighting for citizenship now,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told the crowd. “I will continue to fight along with members of SEIU until we get common sense immigration reform once and for all.”

The AFL-CIO, which includes AFGE and 56 other unions, is a highly visible supporter of immigration reform. AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka demonstrated that by standing behind Obama as he pushed a sweeping reform bill.

“Brothers and sisters, you are not alone in this fight. Your 2.5 million brothers and sisters in the New York state AFL-CIO are here with you,” said New York state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “Your fight is our fight. Your fight for dignity is our fight. Your fight for respect is our fight,”

Elected officials in New York City did their share to help this year when they promised to spend $18 million to open opportunities for undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation. Of the $18 million, $13.7 million will create seats through the Youth and Community Development Department, and the rest will help expand immigrant-related educational programs in CUNY.

Meanwhile, Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio said that Congress should represent everyone in this country and that changes are needed to represent our reality. “The U.S. Constitution envisioned the notion that our society would change and our government with it, constantly making it a more prefect union,” he said.

A Senate bill was passed in June that would guarantee that most undocumented immigrants could earn green cards in 10 years and citizenship three years after that if they paid fines, learned English, remained employed and did not commit crimes. Only time will tell how clear a path to citizenship will be. It is an issue that continues to be debated in the House.

The chances of a comprehensive deal passing this year are slim. The bitter Washington partisanship and government shutdown have stalled any chance of reform as advocates worry that the legislative process will spill into 2014, presenting new complications in a year when lawmakers face re-election.