On the 5th day of the Federal Government shutdown, the country is still reeling from funding cuts to Head Start, cancer research programs, and staff levels at Capitol Hill. Secondary to passing a functional budget are a number of crucial social agenda items that include Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The legislation itself is something that President Obama ran on in his original campaign for the nation’s highest office, claiming it was a priority to pass in his first term in office. Though the idea has yet to become law, the attendees of today’s rally and march were determined to not allow the prospect of reform to disappear into memory.
Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park swelled with local elected officials, political action groups, and union leaders, the crowd packing itself into the confines of the park to hear a series of speakers that saw appearances from the current favorite for mayor of NYC - Bill de Blasio, - to strong immigration reform advocate, Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, and politically oriented hip hop group Rebel Diaz.
Following speeches from Min Kwon Center and El Puente representatives and a resounding introduction by SEIU membership, Mr. de Blasio ascended the stage along with his wife, Chirlane McCray, and took the opportunity to share a portion of his platform. “I think every New Yorker needs the opportunity to have an ID card so that they can get a bank account, sign a lease, obtain a driver’s license if they need to drive for work … and participate in society.” Then speaking specifically about documentation, “I also think we shouldn’t be asking people to have all their immigration paperwork when they show up to be treated at the hospital. Health care is a right and in order to provide that we need public hospitals, and those public hospitals need to remain open” he said, referring to his recent involvement with the LICH closure.
Representative Nydia Velázquez made a brief appearance before having to rush back to Washington D.C. where she and her Democratic colleagues are currently battling Republican intransigence regarding the Federal budget. Addressing this concern directly she said: “...passing comprehensive immigration reform would eliminate $200 Billion from the national debt,” partly by allowing millions of new taxpayers to contribute to the economy.
The importance of this march taking place during Hispanic heritage month was not lost on either the organizers or the crowd as nearly every speaker, whether Hispanic, Korean, African, or otherwise repeated the same refrain: “¡Sí se puede!” from the stage's podium, much to the delight of the crowd. After the speakers and a multi-faith benediction, the group marched across the bridge without incident to City Hall Park and then dispersed peacefully.
The tired, the poor, the huddled masses have always clamored to our shores, sometimes in waves, sometimes in trickles, but always yearning to breathe free. Immigrant labor, ingenuity, and military service have been the very supports upon which our country has relied during the first two centuries of its existence. But in our current security state society, boxed in by recession and sequester, plagued by decade long conflicts for which many of the same immigrants have volunteered in exchange for citizenship, ‘freedom’ as such seems slightly less like the picture originally painted. However, with the tireless work of enterprising groups and individuals such as those who attended today’s event, perhaps we might once again unite the vision with reality.