At NYC May Day rally, calls for a more liberal immigration reform bill

Liz Goodwin
The Ticket

One might imagine that activists at the pro-immigrant, pro-labor May Day rally in New York City would be happy about the bipartisan immigration reform bill currently in the Senate. But signs and activists at Wednesday's rally called the current draft bill an "unjust" plan that would leave out too many immigrants in its legalization scheme and focus too much on increased enforcement at the border.

One popular sign at the rally featured the face of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., behind barbed wire. The words: "No to Schumer and the Gang of 8," in Spanish—referring to the eight senators who hashed out the plan.

Some activists said the immigration compromise—which would trade stricter enforcement of current laws for a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants—is unjust and unacceptable.

The rally was part of 85 May Day demonstrations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and other cities pushing for immigration reform and labor rights. They drew thousands of protesters, according to organizers.

"I speak for most immigrants when I say the gang of 8 is doing a bill that will give us almost nothing," said Carlos Canales, a community organizer from Freehold, N.J. "It's going to end up to be an elitist immigration reform."

Canales said he's organizing a hunger strike in front of Schumer's New York office in the coming weeks to urge him to change the bill to address criticisms from the left. Canales objects to the requirement that immigrants who want to be legalized must prove they've been employed since December of 2011 to qualify. He said many unauthorized immigrants will have trouble proving employment because they work in more transitory jobs that don't keep records.

A Schumer spokesman, Max Young, said the bill has drawn "wide support among prominent Latino and pro-immigration organizations." And an organizer of the May Day rallies, Ben Monterroso, stressed before the rally that "there's so many good things in the bill," even if activists have some concerns.

"Sen. Schumer is working with the length and breadth of the Hispanic community to pass an immigration bill that accelerates family reunification and that sets a path to citizenship that gets all eligible 11 million people out of the shadows and into legal status as quickly as possible," said Young.

Other activists at the rally said they object to the way the bill would shift the legal immigration system to prioritize skill- and employment-based visas. Under the current proposal, visas for adult siblings of U.S. citizens would be eliminated and a cut-off age for applying for green cards for adult children would be instituted.

Christina Chang, an advocacy associate for the Korean American group Minkwon Center for Community Action, said she does not believe the current bill is unjust, but that she hopes it changes substantially in the coming weeks. "It's a fundamental change from a family-based immigration system to one that's merit based," Chang said.

Her group also believes that immigrants could end up waiting 20 years or longer to become citizens under the bill if lawmakers continue to make the process contingent on the U.S.-Mexico border meeting certain security standards.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill May 9. Advocates believe it will be introduced on the Senate floor by May 25.