Immigrants March For Local Reforms A Growing Force in City Politics, Immigrants Flex Political Muscle
New York City – Over a thousand immigrant New Yorkers and their supporters marched from Battery Park to City Hall recently in the largest gathering of immigrant groups advocating for city issues held to date. More than 70 organizations from throughout the city, representing immigrants from every corner of the globe, joined the march in a remarkable display of unity and growing civic power.
Participants, carrying colorful signs that read, “Proud to Be an Immigrant!” and “I Love Immigrant New York!” urged Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council to take action to address immigrant New Yorkers’ most pressing local concerns: good schools, safe working conditions, decent housing, and more adult education programs.
“This march sends a powerful message to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council that we can do better when it comes to immigrants,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of The New York Immigration Coalition, organizer of today’s event. “The mayor made immigrants the centerpiece of his State of the City address in January, but warm words are not enough. We can do better. The mayor and City Council need to adopt bold policy solutions that improve the lives of immigrants and all New Yorkers,” said Hong.
Participants cited the shortfall in education funding as a main concern and called on the mayor to restore education aid. “More kids are going to fall through the cracks of our education system if the mayor doesn’t come through with the school funding he had promised to all New York families,” said Ana Maria Archila, co–executive director of Make the Road New York. “These cuts will have devastating effects on our schools, particularly those with large numbers of immigrant students,” said Archila. Late-arriving immigrant teens who begin school with little to no English skills have one of the highest dropout rates: more than 50 percent are dropping out of high school after seven years.
Ralliers also pointed to the rise in construction-site injuries and fatalities in New York City, where three out of four victims have been immigrant workers. “The city needs to better enforce worksite safety standards and help more workers get safety training, because we cannot bear any more stories of construction workers falling to their deaths or getting crushed,” said Gonzalo Mercado, director of El Centro del Inmigrante.
Margaret Chin, deputy executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, spoke of the need to make housing services more accessible to the one-in-four New Yorkers who speak limited English. “Because of language barriers, many New Yorkers cannot get the help they need when negligent landlords refuse to fix dangerous code violations,” said Chin. She called on the mayor and City Council to enact legislation that would enable the city’s housing agency to hire more bilingual inspectors.
Participants called on the city to help more immigrant New Yorkers learn English. “Every community group has long waiting lists for their adult English classes. There is a huge demand for these classes, and very limited supply,” said Mr. Yu Soung Mun, executive director of YKASEC—Empowering the Korean American Community. “By investing in adult English and civics classes, New York can be proactive in helping immigrant New Yorkers integrate into American society and become citizens,” said Mun.