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Riverhead rally calls for Congress to act on immigration reform

Around 250 people gathered to march in Riverhead Saturday, calling on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to deliver a pathway to citizenship in an event organized by the New York Immigration Coalition and more than a dozen other local immigrant rights groups.

The goal of the demonstration was to pressure Sen. Schumer (D-New York) to make sure immigration reform for Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protective Status recipients is included in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act. 

The march started at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate at St. John’s Place and continued to Peconic Riverfront Park, with demonstrators chanting for the New York Senator to hear their call to action.

DACA was an executive action taken by President Obama in 2012 to protect childhood arrivals from deportation. The executive action also allowed eligible applicants to get a work permit and driver’s licenses, relieving the struggle many faced making a living in the U.S. while being undocumented.

Congress created TPS in the Immigration Act of 1990. It is a temporary protective status provided to individuals of specifically designated nations that are facing ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters or other extraordinary conditions.

After multiple efforts to repeal both programs under the Trump administration, advocates are calling for permanent protection.

“We want to wake up the East End … we also want our East End politicians to see us and hear us,” said Sister Marybeth Moore, director of Centro Corazon de Maria in Hampton Bays.

I don’t believe until I see, and see means action

Sister Margaret Smyth

Sandra Dunn, associate director of OLA of Eastern Long Island, said organizers of Saturday’s events invited elected officials from all five East End towns to attend, but only Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) was in attendance.

“In the end, we remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends,” he said to the crowd Saturday. “So I urge our friends today in the federal government not to be silent any longer, to speak out for a pathway to citizenship and to make this happen so that we can finally be one country together.”

The event comes weeks after an initial ruling from Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough that Democrats could not include a plan for immigration reform in the reconciliation bill. For those in attendance Saturday, all hope was not lost.

Protestors marched from St. John’s church to the Peconic riverfront. (Credit: Melissa Azofeifa)

“The parliamentarian can only recommend what can be included in the legislation, but Sen. Schumer is the leader of the Senate and as the leader of the Senate we’re asking him to take the lead and deliver the pathway to citizenship to all the undocumented immigrants,” said Ivan Larios, Long Island coordinator of the New York Immigration Coalition.

The rally included personal testimonies from speakers like Jonnathan Zelaya and Jade Stoute, both DACA recipients, and Miguel Flores, a TPS recipient. All spoke about their journeys as beneficiaries of these programs and pleaded for them to be protected permanently.

“I think it should have been done already and I think that it’s just the right thing to do to not keep waiting on this,” Ms. Stoute said.

Organizers say there is a short window of opportunity to get this reform included in the bill, which is expected to be presented before Congress by the end of the year.

Sister Margaret Smyth of North Fork Spanish Apostolate said Sen. Schumer’s office contacted her to say he was aware of the rally and was working hard to include the reforms in the package.

“He wants you to know that he supports all our efforts, that he is listening, that he is going to be working hard for us,” she said. “But in my office, we have a saying that is, I don’t believe until I see … and see means action.”