Photos and text by Luis Alonso Pérez
On a hazy Saturday morning thousands of bright colored flags from all over the world waved along American flags held proudly by New York immigrants crossing the Brooklyn Bridge protesting the Sesenbrenner-King bill currently under debate in congress.
An estimated 40,000 people and around 200 civil groups participated in what is now considered the largest rally of this kind so far in the New York area. Yet, this number is rather small in a city with more than 3 million immigrants. Still, organizers are expecting a larger turnout for April 10th nation-wide mobilization.
Protestors fear that if approved by the US Senate, the bill would further criminalize undocumented immigrants and make hiring undocumented workers illegal.
However, one of the main concerns is that it broadens the definition of “alien smuggling” to include everyone that provides humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants, which brought together many religious groups and grassroots organization leaders like Stan Mark from the Asian-American legal defense and education fund, who considers the idea of stronger enforcement and criminalizing people as inhumane.
Mark does not believe in a sensible immigration reform because he believes congress will not recognize that we are all human beings and that people have a human right to work. “They don’t even want to hear about it, so they are not going to do it now. They might do it in a few years if the political climate changes, with more militant marches like this one and with an upsurge in al of our different communities, only then can there can be a stronger movement that will help redefine the immigration debate and force people to put out more humane immigration proposals.” However, until that happens the debate will still be framed on guest worker programs, which according to Stan Mark are wrong.
The march began on Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. There, thousands of families, friends, and coworkers held their banners and their home country’s flags up high. The chants blended with the whistles and handclaps. In every street corner musical expressions from all corners of the world could be heard: Brazilian batucada, Irish marching bands, Caribbean rumba, African drums and Aztec ritual chants.
Cealsey Sanchez was one of the many protestors singing and clapping as they marched through the Brooklyn Bridge. She belongs to the Little Sisters of the Assumption group in East Harlem, and is marching against the Sesenbrenner-King bill because she believes that except for Native-Americans, everyone in this country is an immigrant.
“As human beings we all have the right to share the earth God has given to us, and it’s an injustice that so many people who have come into this country to work and earn their bread honestly are treated as criminals.”
Many banners illustrated the marcher’s affiliation to local unions, non-profits or religious groups, however many made it a family affair and brought their cousins, brothers or children, the youngest ones where pushed along in their strollers, many of them American-born from illegal immigrant families, the living reflection of the complexities in this debate.
Josefina Trejo is one of the many who could be affected if the HR4437 bill passes, because she is from the Dominican Republic and her husband from Mexico, but they have children born in this country.
“We are here defending the immigrant’s rights, because we are honest people who came into this country to work and pursue the American dream” said Trejo, joyfully wrapped in her Dominican flag. “I feel very proud and blessed to see so many people united here.”
The massive crowd swarmed the Brooklyn Bridge turning it into a rainbow of colors melting into each other. By noon, the bridge was jammed and the protestors in the back of the march hadn’t even set a foot into the bridge when the ones in front had already reached Foley Square, almost three miles away.
The march concluded with a rally where religious leaders, elected officials and immigration advocates from Latin, African, Asian, and Caribbean groups encouraged unity among ethnic groups and announced the possibility of an immigrant workers strike to protest the bill.
“Just like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream” said Reverend Carlos Torres “I dream of an amnesty for all immigrants, so that everyone that came here to work is allowed to do so. And I dream that this country stops abusing the giant that was asleep and has finally awaken, because the heart of this country are immigrants.”