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Advocates Push Immigrant Equality Agenda

March 6, 2014


Early Wednesday morning, over two hundred and fifty immigrant farm workers, day laborers, students, family members and supporters converged in Albany for the New York Immigration Coalition‘s 17th Annual Immigrant Day of Action. Advocates representing over forty organizations met with key allies in the Assembly and Senate to discuss strategies to push forward the groups’ “Immigrant Equality Agenda.”

Passage of the New York State DREAM Act topped the list this year.  In recent weeks, momentum for this bill that would help thousands of New York’s immigrant youth attend college has been stronger than ever. In February, Governor Cuomo announced his support for, and the State Assembly passed the Act – leaving the State Senate as the final hurdle. Washington State also became the fourth state in the country to pass DREAM Act-type legislation in February, when the measure the state’s GOP-controlled Senate passed the bill. In New York, there is broad support for the state DREAM Act across diverse sectors, including business, faith, labor, and education.

Groups also raised the need for all immigrants in New York State to be allowed to obtain drivers’ licenses, and also called for a major expansion in funding for critical legal and social services as a critical lever for economic development in New York.

During his welcome to crowds of community leaders from across the state, Steven Choi, executive director of the NYIC, said, “Advocates in this room represent four million immigrant New Yorkers who are an integral part of the fabric of our great state.  Together, we can ensure that New York joins other states in recognizing the potential of our immigrant youth by passing the New York State DREAM Act.  We can also make our roads safer, our economy more robust, and our immigrant families more secure by providing driver’s licenses to motorists regardless of status. And we can ensure that the quarter of New York’s population that are immigrants can continue to drive our economy forward by expanding resources to help them naturalize, learn English, and develop their job skills.  We look forward to working together with our state elected officials in the coming months to move our agenda and to create a better, more vibrant New York.”

“It is of tremendous importance that the Immigrant Day of Action is held in Albany,” said Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on New American who co-hosted the meeting. “It is immigration that has fueled the small business growth of our communities that currently employ over 330,000 New Yorkers.”

“Whether it’s the DREAM Act, driver’s licenses or farmworkers bill, the goal is to afford New Americans the chance to succeed,” said State Senator Jose Peralta.

“Our members are energized to work with their elected officials on initiatives like the NYS Dream Act and access to driver’s licenses. Immigrant communities in Westchester, Putnam, Orange and around the Hudson Valley are working with their fellow New Yorkers to make 2014 the year for meaningful reforms that will contribute to social justice and a stronger economy for us all,” said Betsy Palmieri, executive director of Hudson Valley Community Coalition.

“Long Island immigrants want the New York State Legislature to take a fresh look at making Drivers’ Licenses available to undocumented immigrants,” said Patrick Young, program director at CARECEN. “This will improve public safety, insure that everyone who drives is insured, and end the isolation of Long Island’s immigrants.”

“The decades long pursuit of equal protection under the law for farmworkers is paramount to the overall fight for immigrant justice in New York,” said Milan Bhatt, Executive Director of Worker Justice Center. “Literally tens of thousands of farm workers who drive our state’s economy continue to be dehumanized by exclusions from basic labor standards such as overtime, day of rest, and the right to collectively bargain that are rooted in this country’s pre-Civil Rights era past. We simply cannot wait any longer for this deplorable moral wrong of “modern day slavery” to be corrected.  New York must act urgently and swiftly to pass the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act.”

“While we are encouraged by the creation of immigrant support centers such as the Office for New Americans (ONA) that formally recognize the enormous contributions immigrants make to New York State, there is still much to be done to expand immigrant services in New York,” said SJ Jung, President of MinKwon Center for Community Action. “Designated ONA Opportunity Centers like the MinKwon Center are important havens where the newest New Yorkers come to receive vital services to learn English, to get naturalized and to be screened for immigration relief. However the current level of funding does not come close to meeting the demand in our communities. New York must provide additional funding to ONA so that the agency can expand the types of immigration legal services offered, prevent the exploitation of immigrants from unscrupulous actors and continue to provide programs that help New Americans integrate and contribute to New York.”

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