Remarks – Immigrant Rights

I stand here today as a representative of the government of the Village of Hempstead. I bring you greetings on behalf of Mayor Wayne Hall, who wanted to be here, but was unable to attend, and on behalf of the other Board of Trustee Members. The Honorable Deputy Mayor Henry Conyers is here with me.

I stand here in solidarity with the immigrant community of the Village and with all immigrants seeking a legal pathway to citizenship and to full inclusion in the great American society.

Everyone here is an immigrant. Whether you came on the Mayflower in 1620, on the slave ship in the early 16 and 1700s, via the big boats from Europe that flooded New York’s Ellis Island in the 1920s and 30s, on the planes from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, or on today’s planes coming from Central and South America, Africa, India, China, Japan or Europe.

The only ones among us who aren’t immigrants are the Native Americans, yet oddly enough they aren’t trying to chase anyone out of their country or to deny them any of the precious rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

There is great division about the immigrant question. Should undocumented immigrants be given a pathway to citizenship? Should the children of the undocumented born in this country be considered Americans or should they have their citizenship revoked?

Far from being a complex question, for many of us, the immigration question is a simple one: Put yourself in the shoes of an immigrant and you’ll see he or she isn’t any different than you are or than your grandparents who came to this country several generations ago.

Immigrants want the same things that every other American wants: a better paying job, better opportunities, access to good schools and good doctors. The opportunity for our children to do better than we did ourselves.

I suppose then that a big part of the immigration problem is an education problem; it’s about educating working and middle-class Americans about the immigrant community, about their desires and aspirations, about the fact that immigrants are just like everyone else.

Many political leaders knowing the truth, know also that immigration is an easy way to score political points. So they ignore the facts and decide instead to use it to divide poor against poor, minority against minority, working people against working people,

But I am here today, along with all of you, to stand up for the rights of the immigrant community who are the backbone of so many other communities.

Who takes care of other people’s children when they are at work? Who does the gardening that the husbands and the fathers are unavailable to do? Who does the construction, the electrical work, the roofing and the tiling at wages no one else would even dream of doing?

Los immigrantes: Juan, Sophia, Vilma, Luis, Jorge, that’s who.

I am here today also to say that as we talk about the immigrant question we have to remember that the immigrant question isn’t a one-sided question. The immigrant isn’t the only one in this relationship.

So if you want to criminalize the undocumented immigrant who gets picked up from the street corner to work as a day laborer so that he can put food on his family’s plate, and pay sales and other taxes, then you have to criminalize the middle- and upper-class American who hired him.

If, however, you’re not going to arrest Mr. America, then perhaps you should fight for immigration reform that gives the day laborer, the restaurant worker, your hair dresser and beautician—and the many small business owners revitalizing communities—a viable path to citizenship.

As for me, I support legal immigration, because it’s the law of the land, but also because illegal immigration is dangerous on many levels, and because unless people can find pathways to citizenship that do not criminalize them, they will remain underground and exposed to abuse from unscrupulous employers, abuse from greedy landlords, at increased risk of violence because they are less likely to report crimes against them for fear of being arrested and turned in to INS; and at increased risk for untreated illnesses because they won’t go to the doctor for fear of being turned in to Immigration services.

We understand that America, as a whole, is struggling. The economy is under siege. Many people are losing their homes and their jobs. And when folks are worried about their jobs they become concerned that ‘outsiders,’ the ‘others,’ new people will take the few jobs that exist. The truth is, however, that they forget that the new immigrant, the undocumented worker isn’t taking the job most Americans want. They’re taking the jobs that many other others are reluctant to do, and they’re doing it for pay that nobody else will take.

So, the immigrant problem isn’t a problem of immigrant versus citizen. It’s a problem of the working people across all races, ethnicities and communities, whether immigrant or citizen, uniting to fight against the companies that would take advantage of them.

In truth, the working people of America have got to understand that the immigrant issue is a labor issue, it’s a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s an issue that speaks to keeping the doors of America open to all who aspire to the American dream.

To do this immigration reform must be placed front and center of the political agenda.

In the next election year, the immigrant community and their friends and supporters, must demand that our political leaders address the immigration problem and come up with a viable solution that includes a pathway to citizenship.

I stand here today as a representative of the Village of Hempstead; a municipality that stands out for many reasons. We are the first and largest municipality of color in Nassau County; we were the first municipality on Long Island to elect a Latino politician. We elected Max Rodriguez as the Village Trustee in 1994. We were the first municipality in the nation to take our money out of Chase bank because of its failure to work with homeowners struggling with foreclosure. We possess one of the largest Hispanic populations on Long Island: Some 44% of Hempstead is Hispanic, according to the last census.

And today we stand as leaders on the immigration question.

Our Village is a diverse village. It has many different peoples: black, white, Latino, Caribbean, Asian, Middle Eastern, citizen, immigrant. But, amidst all that difference, more unites us than divides us.

We are one village and one nation; those who were born here and those who are seeking citizenship. It is up to our government to figure out reform that is humane and legal and that does not demonize the many who are seeking the same rights and opportunities to work, live and progress, as all of the millions who came here before them.

In unity there is progress.

Written by: EthnicWriter

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