Dozens of immigration reform advocates braved the cold in Southampton Village on Sunday afternoon to rally for comprehensive reform on the state and federal levels.
The peaceful protest took place at Lola Prentice Memorial Park on Windmill Lane, next to police headquarters, over an hour and a half, and featured many pro-immigration reform signs. A boy held one that read, “You may think I’m a DREAMER, but I’m not the only one,” using John Lennon lyrics to refer to the Dream Act, a bill that would give legal status to some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Chants of “Yes, we can!” and its Spanish equivalent “Sí se puede!” emerged from the crowd. Some people waved American flags.
The event drew an estimated 300 ralliers, according to Sister Mary Beth Moore, a pastoral agent with Centro Corazón de María, one of the rally sponsors and a founding member of the East End Immigrant Advocates, or EEIA, a one-year-old outreach and advocacy organization, that co-sponsored it. Neighbors in Support of Immigrants and the Hispanic Apostolate of the South Fork also sponsored the rally.
“The tourist industry and the agricultural industry of the East End are made possible by immigrant labor,” Sister Moore said, “and they deserve justice.”
The rally, which drew a mix of citizens and non-citizens, was intended to provide an opportunity for the immigrant community to show their strength and let their voices be heard, she said. She called it a great success.
Despite “oodles of publicity,” she said, “we didn’t know if people would come out. Undocumented people are fearful of other people’s attitudes toward them and actual reprisals.”
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, passed by Senate by a large majority in June, includes a path to citizenship for adults that would likely take 13 years, according to the EEIA. “Dreamers,” or young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, would be able to earn green cards in five years, as would some agricultural workers. EEIA added that the bill also calls for increases in border security and a system to prevent businesses from hiring unauthorized workers.
Ralliers spoke of their reasons for taking a stand.
“Some of my neighbors are Latinos and I’ve become friends with them,” explained Lorry Werner of Hampton Bays about why she attended. “We’re all immigrants.”
She happened to drive by and notice the rally, so she joined in, she said.
Carla Ash of East Hampton called herself a big proponent of immigration reform.
“Many Latinos are hard workers and they deserve better than they’re getting,” she said, adding that she came despite a busy day. “We can’t let the House think we don’t care anymore.”
“I want reform. I don’t want to be scared,” said Vilma Segura of Southampton. “I want to have my license.”
Jack King of Westhampton Beach said, “If you look around you see so many families here. We have to keep families together. Our immigration system is separating them … They are Americans.”
Meanwhile, four counterprotesters took up camp across the street, brandishing anti-immigration signs such as “Secure Our Borders” and “Don’t Jump the Fence. Obey the Law!”
“The illegals come in and take the jobs Americans need,” said Lynda Edwards of Amagansett, an organizer of the East End Tea Party, who waved the latter sign.
A fellow counterprotester distributed a document issued by the group New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement, or NYICE, that railed against “amnesty for illegal aliens.”
“Don’t believe the lie that the 20 million illegals are somehow helping our economy, instead of the truth, which is that they are destroying it,” it read.
Sister Moore, for her part, said the pro-immigration advocates will hold another rally in the spring, timed to coincide with the filing periods for the 2014 midterm elections.