NEW YORK – On the eve of an expected major policy speech on immigration by President Obama on Jan. 29 in Las Vegas and with momentum building for immigration reform at the White House and in Congress, New Yorkers gathered at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan Monday to amplify the call for legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented and to announce nationwide mobilization on April 10th, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Joined by three members of Congress—Jose Serrano, Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries—immigrant families and community members shared heartbreaking stories of parents, siblings, and loved ones deported—caught in an outdated and unworkable immigration system that has torn millions of families apart—and vowed to work together for passage of immigration reform legislation this year.
New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform, a newly formed statewide coalition of immigrant families and workers, labor groups, community organizations, clergy, and civic leaders coordinated by the New York Immigration Coalition, organized the press conference, which was one of a series of events nationwide. (The New York Immigration Coalition’s executive director, Chung-Wha Hong, spoke at a simultaneous national press conference also held Monday in Washington, DC.) The coalition is calling for an overhaul of the immigration system to meet the needs of the economy and keep families together. The coalition proposes a number of reforms, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, a reduction in visa backlogs so that family members do not have to wait years to reunite with loved ones, and greater discretion for judges when deciding whether an immigrant must be deported.
With Republicans and Democrats agreeing that the country needs a practical solution, and an increasingly powerful electorate of Latino, Asian and immigrant voters calling for reform, the momentum for legislative reform is high. Earlier today, a bipartisan group in the Senate released their framework for immigration reform that included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The 2012 election made clear that for Latino, Asian and immigrant voters, immigration is a personal issue and a defining one. After heavy turnout for Obama among these voters in 2012, many Republican policymakers and conservative pundits have also added their voices to the call for reform.
Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “We’ve been working toward this moment for a long time, building the immigrant electorate, highlighting the injustices of our immigration system, not giving up against great odds. That persistence has paid off; there’s movement in Washington after years of partisan gridlock on the issue. We’re here today—joining with hundreds of thousands others across the country—to seize this opportunity and say we’re ready to work with Congress and the White House to make the dream of a fair and sensible immigration system a reality.”
“We must take action on a federal solution to our broken immigration system,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I am more committed than ever to work with President Obama and my colleagues toward passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that keeps families together, treats immigrants fairly, and gives them a path to earned citizenship.”
“The time has come for fair, humane and rapid comprehensive immigration reform,’ said Congressman José E. Serrano. “The message was clear during the last elections: our country is ready and willing to accept the undocumented as full participants in our great nation. Together with President Obama we will pass this reform and give the millions of undocumented a path to citizenship and a better life.”
“With the start of the 113th Congress and President Obama’s second term, we have a unique opportunity to advance comprehensive immigration reform in Washington,” said Congressman Jerold Nadler (D-NY). “Millions of immigrants are awaiting a clear pathway toward citizenship, reunification with their families, and a chance to make an honest go at the American Dream. Let’s make sure our immigration policies work to strengthen and support – not undermine – stable families of all varieties.”
“For years, immigrants have come to this nation in search of the American Dream, only to be presented with challenges that have barred full participation in our civil society and placed undue hardships on their families,” stated Representative Yvette D. Clarke. “The time has come for us to replace a system that does not work in the twenty-first century with comprehensive immigration reform. The 113th Congress must act to ensure our nation remains a land of opportunity for all people.”
“This country was founded by immigrants that came in search of freedom, prosperity and a better life for their families while contributing to the fabric of this great nation economically and culturally,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries. “We must reform our broken immigration system and create a pathway toward citizenship for the millions of undocumented hardworking individuals who dream of becoming Americans. This is a matter of utmost urgency for the integrity of our democracy and must be addressed this year.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “As a child of immigrants, I know first-hand all that citizenship represents. For hardworking families in New York and nationwide, immigration reform signifies a welcome from the nation they work hard for and hope to be equal participants in. I am proud to add my voice to the chorus calling for thoughtful reforms and true equality for all.”
“This last election cycle, the voters spoke loud and clear about the need for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Senator Gustavo Rivera. “In New York, we have taken the lead on issues of immigrants’ rights. That is why it is so important for us to stand together in support of a federal immigration reform package that will provide undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship and fix our broken immigration system in a way that reflects our values as a country of immigrants.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer said, “I am proud to stand alongside New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform today in urging Congress to take long overdue action to safeguard our nation’s immigrant population. In New York, 40% of our City is foreign born – these New Yorkers work hard every day and play an essential role in our City’s economic, cultural, and innovative edge. With the Senate set to announce the details of an immigration bill, today’s rally sends a strong message that millions of Americans are united in their support for laws that provide a dignified path to citizenship.”