Immigrant New Yorkers March Today for Immigration Reform

Javier Cuenca (in red) and another activist during preparations for today's May Day immigration rally - Photo: Maibe Gonzalez.

Javier Cuenca (in red) and another activist during preparations for today’s May Day immigration rally. (Photos: Maibe Gonzalez)

About a dozen documented and undocumented immigrants showed up yesterday at the Queens, NY office of community organization Make The Road New York, where they painted signs, packed food and coordinated transportation. Some also prepped to speak at one of today’s May Day rallies in Manhattan.

A prominent immigrant advocacy organization, Make the Road is one of about 60 community, faith and labor groups that are expected to participate in two major demonstrations for immigration reform this afternoon, as part of a national action day that includes demonstrations in a number of cities. (Feet in Two Worlds will have reports on rallies throughout the day.)

One of the volunteers was Javier Oscar Cuenca, a 33-year-old, football-player type Argentinean who recently moved from New Jersey to Queens.

Cuenca has been in the United States for eight years after overstaying a tourist visa and has sustained himself by painting houses. He’s been unemployed for the last four months, but is hopeful that under President Barack Obama reforms will be enacted that help him obtain legal status, work, and attend college. Despite being undocumented, Cuenca said he didn’t mind being identified in this story.

“I’m doing this because I have faith the reform will pass,” Cuenca said. “I’m 80 percent confident it will pass.”

Speaking of immigration reform at his White House news conference on Wednesday, President Obama reiterated his desire to “move this process.” But the president also indicated that strengthening the U.S.-Mexico border is a pre-condition.

If the American people don’t feel like you can secure the borders, then it’s hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, well, you’re just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.

Cuenca was working with Humberto De La Cruz, a 55-year-old man from Puebla, Mexico, who came to the U.S. for the first time over a year ago to reunite with his sons. He joined Make the Road shortly after his arrival, in order to learn how to read and write in Spanish.

“I will do everything possible to attend the rally tomorrow,” said De La Cruz, who’s also undocumented. “I don’t want to be like other immigrants who don’t care about change. I think this is important.”

While both demonstrations to be held today in the city will advocate new immigration laws, the organizations taking part in them differ in lobbying styles and on the specific measures they think should be included in a reform bill. Divisions among immigration reform advocates are also being seen in Los Angeles, where at least seven separate marches are planned.

Demonstrators at the 1:15 pm rally in Madison Square Park, where Make the Road will participate, will call for universal health care and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would protect workers’ right to join unions.

Meanwhile, members of the May Day Coalition, who will conduct a 4 pm rally in Union Square, are expected to call for broader policies such as abolishing NAFTA and stopping bailouts for corporations.

Make the Road expects to mobilize at least 90 of its members. In total, the Madison Square Park rally is expected to attract about 1,000 people, a modest number in a year when pro-immigration activists have promised to keep pressure on the new administration to keep its promise and enact a new immigration law in 2009.

“The real fight for immigration reform has yet to happen," says organizer Daniel Coates.

“The real fight for immigration reform has yet to happen,” says organizer Daniel Coates.

Daniel Coates, a community organizer with Make The Road who spent Thursday working logistics for the rally, argues that the number is significant considering that organizations have fewer resources to spend on mobilization, people are less likely to skip work, and that no immigration reform bill has been introduced in Congress.

Coates thinks the demonstration will help build the critical mass that will be needed later this summer when an immigration bill is expected to get to the House floor.

“The real fight for immigration reform has yet to happen,” Coates said. “We are organizing and building a base for the fight that will occur later this year.”

AboutMaibe Ponet
Maibe Ponet is a Venezuelan-American journalist. She is currently the Opinion Page Editor for El Diario La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States. She has worked as a reporter for leading Venezuelan national publications and was a staff writer for the Spanish language newspaper Hoy, where she covered local politics and NYC City Hall from 2002 to 2005. Following her departure from Hoy, she served as a press person for candidates, elected officials and city agencies, including the 2005 Democratic mayoral nominee Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the New York City Department of Education. Maibe is a former Independent Press Association Ethnic Journalism Fellow. She holds a BA in Journalism from the Central University of Venezuela, and a master's degree in Urban Policy and Management from The New School University.