By Elvira Arellano
I will always remember New York as the place to which we traveled on the “Freedom Ride”, carrying the Virgin of Guadalupe, to rally for justice in the park looking out on the Statute of Liberty.
This week, I want to extend my great congratulations to those who have brought forward the new law in New York City that will end the practice of holding innocent people in Rikers to be turned over to immigration authorities. The practice now in place in New York begins with the stop and search policy of the police which encourages racial profiling aimed at Latinos and immigrants. Once caught in the dragnet of the criminal justice system by a street encounter or a routine traffic stop, undocumented persons are then brought to Rikers. When they go before a judge and are released on bond they are held there for ICE to come and pick them up. The result is that a father or a mother who has committed no crime is suddenly swept away from their families and the lives which they have built through hard work and struggle in New York. In many cases, their U.S. citizen children are left without a parent to fend for themselves.
The legislation brought forward this week by Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito, and now supported by Mayor Bloomberg, would end this practice at Rikers. It is very important that New York City is taking this stand, following the example of Chicago last month, while in states like Alabama laws are being passed making it much harder on immigrants and their families. Congratulations also to my companeros at Make the Road New York for their hard work on this legislation. New York is standing up and I congratulate you!
At the same time, Congressman Gutierrez was in New York last week to explain the new policy he and the Campaign for American Children and Families have persuaded the Obama administration to adopt. Under this new policy, undocumented youth and parents of undocumented children or spouses of U.S. citizens will be “passed over” when they come into contact with ICE. They will not be deported. The Congressman is explaining the new policy across the nation and challenging organizations to use it to defend the rights of these undocumented persons to stay in the United States.
These defensive actions are being taken to defend our families until the Congress of the United States can fix the broken immigration law. Given the political situation in the United States, this might take several years. The election next November will be very important.
For our part in Mexico, we are working very hard to change the government in the elections next July so that the government of Mexico will put pressure on the U.S. to treat our people fairly and to change the economic policies that force us to go to the U.S. to find work in the first place. If you are a Mexican citizen, I urge you to register and vote in that election as well.
Some might ask why we are fighting so hard to stay in the United States since it treats us so badly. I can only speak from my experience as an undocumented mother of a U.S. citizen son. I fought so that I could stay with him and give him the opportunity to exercise his right as a U.S. citizen to grow up in that country. I wanted him to have the opportunities offered there in the only country he had ever known. I still send him to the United States every summer to my church in Chicago so that he will keep up his English and his knowledge of how things work in the United States. That is very difficult and thousands of U.S. citizen children here in Mexico are not able to do this.
Millions of us in the United States send back remittances to our family members in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and our other home countries. In many cases, these remittances are the difference between survival and starvation, between medicine and death, between a child educated and a child deprived of education. We fight to stay and work for them out of duty and out of love!
But there is something else that drives us to fight for the right to stay in the United States. We have worked hard there under unfair conditions. Our labor should not be thrown away like garbage. In fighting for our dignity we are fighting for the dignity of all workers. As they say, an injury to one is an injury to all. If we allow some Latinos to be so disrespected, than all Latinos will suffer disrespect.
It is a fact that discrimination follows those whose home countries are discriminated against by the U.S. The injustice that exists between the wealth of the United States and the poverty of Latin America calls out for challenge. Every Latino child that grows up to be a citizen of the United States is another vote, another voice in the struggle, to challenge this injustice.
Finally, there is a spiritual aspect to our struggle. The statue of Liberty was erected on the coast of New York but the Virgin of Guadalupe is there as well, calling us as she once called Juan Diego, calling us to challenge the powerful invaders to recognize the dignity of our people. Like Abraham and Sarah of old, God has called us to be fruitful and multiply in a strange land which He will make part of our inheritance. The Virgin of Guadalupe is there and she is here, strengthening our faith and our resolve to survive, to struggle and to live with dignity. We shall not be moved! If we are deported, we shall return!