Queens immigration advocates take their case on to D.C.

By Anna Gustafson

Among the 200,000 people rallying for immigrant rights in Washington, D.C., Sunday were large groups of Queens residents who awakened long before the sun rose to advocate for immigration reform that would include giving legal status to millions of undocumented individuals.

Community activists, nonprofit leaders, government officials and students from the borough traveled by the busload to Sunday’s rally held in front of the National Mall and said they were cheered by the sight of so many like-minded people gathered to press President Barack Obama’s administration to act on immigration reform.

“Up until several weeks ago, many political pundits said immigration reform was dead in the water, but by organizing this massive rally and march we really revived this issue,” said S.J. Jung, the executive director of the Minkwon Center in Flushing. “I’ve been a strong advocate for immigration reform for many years, not just because I’m an immigrant but because I’m an American and believe immigration reform is a plus for economic recovery and a must for our nation’s prosperity and security.”

The Minkwon Center brought about 450 people to the rally, and Jung said the New York Immigration Coalition, of which his center is a part, mobilized about 12,000 New York residents to visit Washington.

“What touched me particularly was the demeanor of the people there,” said Richard Lipkowitz, a community organizer from Kew Gardens, who traveled to the rally with the Minkwon Center.. “The courtesy reminded me of the ’60s. People of all colors were there. I didn’t hear a voice raised in anger. When people of purpose come together, we have it within us to be who we were — those who believed in peace, love and happiness.”

Rally organizers estimated more than 200,000 people attended the daylong rally — about 150,000 more people than projected, according to Gabriela Villareal, an immigration policy coordinator at the New York Immigration Coalition, who thinks Sunday’s event will inspire federal legislators to act on immigration reform.

“I don’t think anybody expected over 200,000 immigrants and their allies would come out to march,” Villareal said. “The sheer number alone should be a call to members of Congress. There’s a window of opportunity for immigration reform this year and Congress needs to get into action right away to make immigration reform a reality.”

Villareal said New York Immigration Coalition officials have pushed for legislation that would include the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to work toward citizenship, crack down on “unscrupulous employers who exploit workers” and work better with families so they are not separated due to deportation or detention.

“We have 390,000 people each year being deported, and some of them are shackled, some are denied due process rights, and almost every one of them is uprooted from their communities and families,” Jung said. “I think this is a trail of tears in the 21st century.”

Michelle Ammons, a Queens College sophomore who traveled with the Minkwon Center, said her recent move to Queens has made her realize the importance of reform.

“It’s such a major issue in the U.S., and especially here in New York City,” she said. “… I feel like the immigrants of today will make up the future of America, and we don’t want our future to be treated poorly.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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