A Call For Justice At Giant Queens Rally
Immigrants by the thousands come to this country pursuing the American dream, Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin told the throng of 100,000 people assembled in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park last Saturday, but, he said, "their road to citizenship is filled with potholes the size of craters."
But his deep belief and pride in the American sense of fair play propelled him to help organize the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride that day.
As chairman of that historic event, McLaughlin, president of the 1.3 million-member New York City Central Labor Council, declared, "This demonstration will send a clear message to our elected leaders in Washington:
"America is a country of immigrants. When you arrived here should not determine how you are treated. All people deserve the opportunity to pursue the American dream."
"Today," he shouted to the huge gathering, "we are here to focus on the plight of the immigrant worker... to speak out against the injustices in the workplace."
The Flushing lawmaker reminded the throng that their huge demonstration, which was sparked by a cross-country journey of 900 immigrants in 18 buses, had been inspired by another historic event, the Freedom March of August 28, 1963 which is considered to be this nation’s high point in the struggle for equal rights.
Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, also spoke at the huge rally and was welcomed by heavy applause. Speaking first in Spanish and then in English, he declared:
"We cannot go on simply ignoring and tolerating the plight of our brothers and sisters. Families are being damaged by cruel separation, and in all too many instances shameful advantage is being taken of men and women in the work force who do not have proper papers."
The Freedom Ride was endorsed and supported by over 1,000 civil rights, immigrant rights, labor, religious and student associations and ethnic organizations as well as individuals and public officials.
On Friday evening, labor leaders, including Dennis Rivera and Peter Ward, as well as McLaughlin, greeted the Freedom Riders at the New Jersey–New York border.
The previous evening, the Freedom Riders, who had traveled from Seattle and Los Angeles through Portland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston, Miami, and Boston on a 12-day journey, were greeted in Washington, D.C.
Among those to salute the riders was Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx). The Elmhurst lawmaker, who represents one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the state, stated:
"We need to change our immigration policy to create a road to citizenship for all immigrant workers, to reunite workers with their families, to ensure immigrants’ civil liberties and civil rights, and to protect the rights of immigrants in the workplace."
In the past, Crowley has supported legalization of current undocumented immigrant in this country and other pro-immigrant legislation.
Other speakers at Saturday’s rally at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park were the newly installed Bishop of Brooklyn and Queens, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, and top labor leader John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.
The rally was much like a giant festival with entertainers performing, and salsa and reggae music flaring as the smell of tortillas and chicken wafted over the crowd.
The demonstrators called for granting legal status to illegal immigrants, for issuing of more visas that would reunite more families, more protection in the workplace and laws against exploitation, and an end to civil liberties violations.
At Thursday’s rally in Washington, there was a call for legislation to grant legal status to more than 500,000 farm workers who have lived in the United States for five years and have graduated from American high schools.
Rally chairwoman Maria Elena Durazo said there should be changes so that every immigrant gets a fair break. She said the rally signaled a new day for the immigrant community.