NEW YORK—The immigrant community is voicing frustration that two years into his term, President Obama still has not used his broad executive powers to reform the “unjust” and “inhuman” immigration system.
Borrowing from a 1960s civil rights campaign, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) launched a campaign called With the Stroke of a Pen on November 15 to remind Obama that reforms are long overdue. The campaign comes as the prospects for congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform have dimmed, following Republican gains in the midterm elections.
The NYIC, which includes 200 member organizations, was joined by members of the New York City Council in calling for an end to deportations and the passage of the DREAM Act to legalize the status of hundreds of thousands of undocumented students.
“I hold this president accountable to promises he made, promises he has not kept,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito at a press conference.
The campaign seeks to mobilize the public to send letters and pens to the White House to “remind” Obama to use those powers, NYIC Executive Director Chung-Wha Hong said.
“The President could provide some serious solutions to our immigration crisis through executive actions. All it takes is a stroke of a pen,” she said.
The NYIC expressed its concerns over the record high deportations of nearly 400,000 immigrants in 2009; New York’s agreement to participate in the Secure Communities fingerprint-sharing program; and the presence of immigration agents in Rikers Island.
Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said the situation is “out of control,” with deportations shattering people’s lives, splitting up families and communities. It is up to Obama, he said, to step in and stop what’s going on.
S.J. Jung, president of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, said the campaign signals it’s time for Obama and Congressional leaders to shift from “politicking to governing.”
Jung also called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep his promise of reintroducing the DREAM Act.
“We cannot delay it any longer,” Jung said.
“Comprehensive immigration reform is too important. It’s time to end the nonsensical spending of billions of dollars to chase and deport hardworking immigrants.”
For the sake of people like her constituent Victor Mejia, Council Member Julissa Ferreras said the campaign deserves support. The Mexico-born Mejia, a pizza deliveryman, was beaten up in what appeared to be a racially motivated robbery. By signing the executive order, Obama can help alleviate conditions for immigrants like him, Ferreras said.
“We have not given up hope,” Ferreras told Fi2W, “but there is growing frustration among us.”
The frustration is shared by Council Member Gale Brewer, who said immigrants, the “hardest working people,” are being harassed, and students are not being supported by the educational system. She called on the public to “sign away” in support of the pen campaign.
The immigrant community does not trust the police anymore, said Martha Chavez of the organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE). She said the increase in hate crimes reflects growing “anti immigrant sentiment” across the country, and that undocumented immigrants who try to seek help usually end up with their employers “calling the police on them,” she said.
The lone panelist representing the faith-based sector, Sister Pietrina Raccuglia of the Cabrini Sisters, said her group pledged to send 2,000 pens to the President.
With the campaign, she said Mother Frances Cabrini, the patron of immigrants, “is alive and well in New York City again.” Mother Cabrini was a Catholic nun who was sent by the Pope to New York in late 1800s to assist Italian immigrants who were being mistreated and facing hardships adjusting to American life. She did that by establishing schools and orphanages in the Italian enclaves of old New York. Sister Pietrina said her congregation would like the government to put an end to “unjust deportations” and see the DREAM Act become law.
“These children will be assets to the country in the future. They need to stay here, to study and to be contributors to society,” Raccuglia said.
NYIC’s Chung-Wha Hong explained that the With the Stroke of a Pen was partly inspired by the 1962 Ink for Jack campaign where civil rights activists urged President John F. Kennedy to sign an anti-discrimination law concerning federal housing. According to some accounts, within a year of the pen-campaign launch, Kennedy signed an executive order barring racial discrimination in housing.
“It’s a reminder of his [Obama’s] promise to address immigration reform. It’s been two years,” said Chung-Wha. “Maybe he ran out of ink?
To sign up for the campaign, go to www.pencampaign.com.