Immigrants rally for passage of bill to grant legal status

LIers in Hempstead held a rally for immigration reform in hopes of stopping illegal deportation among other issues. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (May 1, 2013)

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Dozens of Long Island immigrants and their supporters joined a national push for immigration reform at street rallies timed to coincide with International Workers' Day Wednesday.

More than 60 people participated in a late-morning rally that caused the temporary closure of Front Street in Hempstead. Another 50 people attended a late-afternoon rally on North Ocean Avenue in Freeport.

Some Long Islanders were going to two afternoon events in New York City -- a march to immigration headquarters in lower Manhattan and a vigil outside Sen. Charles Schumer's midtown office.

Many at the Hempstead march said they were buoyed by congressional efforts to pass a bipartisan reform bill.

"We are in a better position than last year because we have a bill, but we still have to fight," said Saúl Linares, an organizer with the Immigrant Committee of Long Island. "We are talking about a 13-year wait in which immigrants will be paying taxes without all the benefits of citizenship."

Participants carried signs saying that the individual "Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now" as they chanted in Spanish "Obama, escucha; estamos en la lucha," meaning "Obama, listen; we are in the fight."

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The bill, which Schumer (D-New York) helped draft, would give provisional legal status to many of the estimated 11 million to 12 million immigrants who entered the country illegally or stayed on expired visas. Candidates would have to pass background checks, pay penalties and prove they were in the United States as of Dec. 31, 2011.

The proposal offers various citizenship paths and expands visa opportunities.

The May Day events drew thinner crowds than at the height of previous reform efforts.

"They did these marches back in 2006 and 2007 on a significantly larger scale," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., pro-enforcement group.

The marches, Mehlman said, just show the public "hundreds of thousands of people out there proclaiming that they've broken the law, demanding to get rewarded for it."

To Israel Asturias, 51, a Mastic resident from El Salvador who is Long Island coordinator of United Chaplains of America, the calls for reform are about equal opportunity for all.

"God allowed me to become a citizen and I want others, be they Latinos, Chinese or Russians, to have that blessing," said Asturias, who was at the Hempstead event. "This is a country of immigrants where people shouldn't live in fear."

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