As one after another white balloons drifted into the air at Ross Park in Brentwood on Saturday, the demand for a streamlined path to immigration grew louder: ahora (now).
It was the last scene in a two-hour immigration rally and march, one of 170 rallies across the country Saturday where pleas resounded for federal lawmakers to jump-start conversations about changes to U.S. immigration policy.
"We have waited too long to fix our broken immigration system," said Karina Claudio-Betancourt, rally organizer from Latino community advocacy group Make the Road New York. The goal of the Oct. 5 rallies was to reinvigorate the comprehensive immigration reform bill that stalled in the House of Representatives in June.
House Democrats unveiled an immigration bill Wednesday proposing an extended path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants illegally present, along with heightened border security. But immigration reform has been on the back burner since before the budget standoff.
"Immigrant communities, fed up with rising deportations and inaction in Washington and now a closed government, are marching today . . . to raise pressure on congressional Republican leadership to break the logjam and take action," Claudio-Betancourt said.
Written on the balloons were pleas to end deportation or the name of a friend or family member who had been deported. The balloons were released, said rally attendee Patricia Bernal, to remember those deported and families ripped apart as a result. She joined about 100 others at the march, many of them holding signs and chanting "Sí se puede! (Yes we can!)" and "The people, united, will never be defeated!" in Spanish and English.
Bernal, 47, of Bay Shore, came here 13 years ago from Peru with her family. While they are citizens now, she said she empathizes with the struggles of those trying to secure jobs and driver's licenses and keep their families together.
"They need the same opportunity as everybody else," she said.