About 50 people demanding immigration reform held a protest Friday in a parking lot in Hempstead, and about half of them then started out on a 250-mile trek to Washington, D.C., for a March 21 national immigration rally.
"Today, I am starting a walk to Washington, D.C., for full immigration reform. This is our time," Saul Linares, 31, told the crowd standing in a cold drizzle in the rear parking lot of the Home Depot in Hempstead.
Linares, a factory worker from Hempstead Village, said he was going to make the entire walk, but organizer Nadia Marin-Molina, executive director of the Workplace Project, said protesters would take turns walking and riding in a van that will accompany them.
"Some people might walk for four hours, some less, then ride the van," she said. "We have to walk 50 miles a day. Not everyone walks the whole way, but everybody walks part of the way."
She said she expected some people would drop out as the march progressed, but that others would join the trek at several scheduled stops along the way.
The March 21 rally is being staged by the National March for America, the Day Laborers Organizing Network, and others who say they want Congress and President Barack Obama to "fix our broken immigration system."
Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, said immigrants and their advocates were "tired of the political rhetoric."
"We want real leadership. Real leadership is defined by doing what's right. That takes courage and action. Mr. Hope and Change, turn that into a reality," he said.
Pastor Thomas Humphrey of the Long Island Men's Center, a Huntington Station social service agency, said Obama had been elected with strong Hispanic support, and he hoped that would nudge the president toward immigration reform.
"We are marching 250 miles to Washington, in the rain, in the wind," Humphrey said. "So we're asking you President Obama to greet us there when we get to Washington. Come out and meet us so we can tell you exactly how we feel."
About 30 people marched out the parking lot at the end of the rally; others remained behind, waiting to get hired for the day.
Immigration advocates' demands:
- Improve the economic situation for all workers.
- Legalize workers who are currently undocumented.
- Target the worst violators of immigration and labor laws.
- "Depoliticize" how employment visas are granted, and give that authority to an independent commission.
- Clear up the backlog of people trying to immigrate who already have family members here.
- Help integrate immigrants by promoting English and civics classes.
Source: March for America/Reform Immigration for America.