36° Good Morning
36° Good Morning
Long IslandNassau

LI immigration rallies draw fewer marchers

Immigration activists march along Front Street in Hempstead

Immigration activists march along Front Street in Hempstead on May 1, 2015, calling for an end to deportations and for laws granting millions legal status. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Rallies in Hempstead for immigrant rights did not attract the May 1 crowds of years past, but advocates among dozens of marchers said they remain committed to seeking change that would allow many who are in the United States illegally to live without fear.

About 60 people, with immigrant day laborers and domestic workers among them, attended a forum Friday before an evening vigil and mile-long march through the village's downtown.

At one point they chanted in Spanish: "¡El pueblo vive! ¡La lucha sigue!" -- which means "The people live! The struggle continues!"

Omar Henriquez, an activist with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said the rallies have evolved to call attention to many issues affecting immigrants, "from seeking immigration reform for workers" who are undocumented "to increases in minimum wages" for all.

"We want to educate our people about how critical it is to be visible," said Mateo Flores, director of the Economic Opportunity Commission of Nassau County, among sponsors of the evening event. "There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States ... We need to bring them to light for them to have better opportunities."

During an afternoon march, about a dozen people walked for roughly a half-mile along the village sidewalks. The demonstrators mostly called for the state to allow young immigrants brought to this country illegally to qualify for tuition aid for college.

"Education is a right!" they chanted. "Fight! Fight! Fight!"

Some students, excused for the day from classes at Hempstead schools, joined advocates in chanting. But the event was a shadow of demonstrations in previous years that closed village streets.

"Our battle has to continue," said Carlos Canales, community organizer with the Long Island Immigrants Committee. "I went to invite day laborers today, but they were disheartened because we've been protesting for 10 years and nothing has happened."

This was the ninth consecutive year of marches coinciding with International Workers' Day since the immigration reform movement reached a fever pitch across the country in 2006.

Legislation seeking to establish a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants here illegally has failed under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Currently, Obama's expanded executive order exempting many immigrants from deportation is mired in a legal fight in Texas.

Barrett Psareas, a proponent of strict immigration enforcement who is vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association, said the rallies haven't changed his mind.

"Their marches are minuscule now compared to what they were," he said. "It tells me that they understand that the people aren't with them on this."