Whether by bus, car or even on foot, hundreds of Long Islanders are making their way to Washington this weekend to rally for immigration reform.
The rally Sunday is expected to bring tens of thousands from across the nation the same day Congress may vote on health care reform.
"It's not that health care is any less important but it has dominated the entire picture," said Sister Margaret Smyth of the Hispanic Apostolate of the North Fork. "We're . . . trying to get immigration reform] out in the forefront again that people need this."
At least five busloads are making the trip, local immigration leaders said, and many others were turned away. Dozens more began to walk there last week, in a caravan expected to reach the Washington area Saturday.
Hempstead resident Pedro Martinez, 46, is going with his wife, two daughters and his brother. "I'm going there to make my voice count for those who are afraid to come out of the darkness," he said. Martinez, who came from Puebla, Mexico, 15 years ago, said he hopes the rally will put pressure on President Barack Obama and Congress to pass a bill this year.
Nadia Marin-Molina, executive director of The Workplace Project in Hempstead, said a bill may still be far off but Obama can make changes that would benefit immigrants now.
"There are raids going on, families are being separated and destroyed every day," she said. "It's important to also put the message out there that this administration has to take action and can't just sit back until there's immigration reform."
Recently, as communities began mobilizing ahead of the rally, immigrant advocates met with Obama, who has said he supports an overhaul bill. This week Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) released an outline for a bill that calls for four key changes: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure undocumented workers cannot get jobs; creating a process to allow temporary workers; strengthening border security; and implementing a "tough but fair" path to legalization for those here now.
Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, said these moves show progress. "Everyone is saying they can't do anything because they are bogged down with health care," he said. "We have them already debating, so that's a significant accomplishment."