By Donna Lynn
Immigrant awareness day was held on May 4th at Suffolk Community College. “Why we March” a panel of three immigrant rights advocates, spoke at the Babylon Student Center in the Montauk Point Room. On the panel was Louis Valenzuela, Executive Director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Ana Giraldo, bilingual community advocate and Suffolk Community College Alumni and artist Margerita Espada.
Valenzuela started off the discussion explaining why the immigrant community marched in Washington on March 21st. During his bid for election, President Obama promised immigration reform which would allow millions of immigrants a path to citizenship. Obama was supposed to speak out on immigration reform at his State Of The Union address. He only devoted 90 seconds to the issue and the immigrants of America were outraged. A march was then organized to demand immigration reform and to defend the rights of foreign workers.
Before the march, President Obama met with Senator Schumer and other advocates. No concessions were made but the president was very supportive of the immigrant’s plight.
The Fb1070 bill which was put into law by Arizona was the next topic. The Arizona law requires foreigners to have immigration status paperwork or documentation on their persons as all times. This is needed in the event they are involved in a crime or legal matter. It is a crime not to be in the possession of these documents.
“In Germany similar bills gave rise to the Third Reich. We need to put an end to the deportation and raids in Arizona” Valenzuela said.
Intervention on behalf of the immigrants is needed in Arizona. It is horrific and sad that the immigrants of Arizona must deal with this abuse. Each day there are more and more lawsuits because of this law and boycotts are being held.
Espada spoke about how art is a tool for social change. She is the director of Teato Yerbabruja, a theater group that puts on plays that express the concerns and plight of the immigrant. The stories bring to the forefront the issues and the humanity. The plays are tools to aid in organizing the immigrants and gaining public support.
The Theater group is currently putting on a play entitled “What Killed Marcello Lucero”.
“The play focuses on the political and social reasons it happened on Long Island. The play is a platform to expose the reality of the abuse immigrants must endure. Many people don’t believe it is a true story “said Espada.
Giraldo discussed the Dream Act. The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act are a piece of proposed federal legislation that has been introduced to the United States Senate and House of Representatives. This bill would provide undocumented alien students who graduate from high school and are in good moral standing the opportunity to earn residency. They have to have been in the country for five years. After high school graduation they would be able to retain temporary residence for a six year period. Within the six years they must have completed two years of college or two years military service. Upon doing this they are granted permanent residency.
Without legal documentation, immigrant students cannot receive financial aid for college or government grants. They can pursue a degree but upon graduation cannot retain legal employment.
“We are loosing great minds and expertise” said Giraldo
Giraldo then went on to say that the issues of immigration cannot be just viewed on the local news but there are other forums. There is the Hispanic news and other places to keep you updated. It is wise to get both sides of the story.
Questions were posed by the audience to the panel. One question was that the immigrants are depleting our resources, what do you see as a solution? Valenzuela stated that there are myths about immigrants that have become facts. You repeat stereotypes about people and its starts to replace the individual humanity. Despite how difficult it is to believe it, immigrants contribute far more than they take in services. 500,000 immigrants contribute 10.7 billion dollars to the economy.
The FB1070 bill is depleting resources in Arizona. Billions is being used to enforce the law and jails that the immigrants are being retained in. These facilities are privately operated. A lot of money is being spent on private sources just to enforce this law.
Giraldo added that immigrants do not go to local hospitals unless there is an emergency. They get a bill and must pay it like everyone else.
Giraldo also added that immigrants are misrepresented in the media. In the NY Times there was a one page article on the Arizona FB1070 bill. Over 10 times the word illegal was used in describing immigrants. In Time Magazine there was a four page article, blog and discussion. Illegal was only used to refer to illegal immigration.
Valenzuela expressed his hope for success of the Conceptual Immigration Reform Outline. If this outline is enacted into a bill it will both tighten the border control and provide a route to citizenship for thousands of illegals. The outline calls for illegals to be registered and be issued visas. They will also be allowed to travel outside the United States. In phase two of the outline, after eight years and good conduct they become legal residents.
Lisa Melendez, Professor of Library Sciences and advisor of Latino Del Mundo the College students club, assisted in the organizing of the forum.
“Immigration reform is long overdue and immigrants have been and will continue to contribute to our society on many levels. It is time we start acknowledging this reality rather than believe the myths that circulate” said Melendez”
No money was paid to the speakers to put on this forum.