It was bitterly cold and getting colder in Lola Prentiss Park in downtown Southampton Sunday afternoon, but, all afternoon long, a crowd of advocates for immigration reform kept growing.
More than 120 strong by mid-afternoon, they came from Hampton Bays and East Hampton and they walked up the street from down in Southampton Village, but many of the ralliers’ journeys had initially spanned the world, from Colombia, from Chilé, from Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Their purpose was simple: to ask the U.S. House of Representatives to put the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, which passed the Senate in June, up to a vote.
With just four days left of Congressional sessions this year, ralliers accepted the fact that immigration reform likely won’t be on their agenda this year. But many said their hope, this Christmas, is that it will be put up for a vote early in 2014.
Jahayra Naranja of Hampton Bays said that, while working in the United States, she and many people she knows have not been able to say goodbye to loved ones who have died at home, and only know the babies that have been born since they left through photographs.
“Instead of sending a letter to the North Pole this Christmas, we’re going to send it to Washington,” she said, in translation by Sister Mary Beth Moore of East End Immigrant Advocates. “We want to touch the heart of John Boehner.”
“We pay taxes, just like U.S. citizens, and we don’t get anything in return,” she said. “The Dreamers, children without documents, dream of being professionals. We need to make sure their efforts are not in vain. We are the work force here, and we are afraid to walk down the street.”
“The time is now,” she said. “Don’t lose your faith.”
The stretch of Southampton near where the ralliers gathered has long been a hot spot for immigration confrontations on the East End. For the better part of a decade, anti-immigration protesters stood outside the 7-Eleven on the corner of County Road 39 and North Sea Road, where many day laborers gather to find work each morning.
Nearly a decade ago, plans to build a hiring hall in Southampton Village were met with severe opposition from neighbors.
But organizers said Sunday’s rally was the first time they’d seen such momentum for immigrant rights on the East End.
“This is a year after we started our effort and look what we’ve built on the East End. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen numbers like this out east,” said Anita Halasz, Executive Director of Long Island Jobs with Justice. “This is what power looks like….Imagine what that power could do in 2014.”
Across the street from the rally, four anti-immigration protesters stood near the North End Cemetery, holding signs that read “No Amnesty,” “You Lost” and “Secure Our Borders.”
They said they had come from New York City as part of the group New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement, and handed out flyers stating “The American people don’t want the 20 million illegal invaders in our country legalized.” They added that the reform would benefit ultra-rich Silicon Valley billionaires “who want the cheap labor that an army of the newly legalized would provide.” They stood quietly, holding their signs, throughout the rally.
Eastern Long Island NAACP President Lucius Ware lent his support to the ralliers.
“We are all one people,” he said. “We might not have been on the same boat, but we are all immigrants.”
He said comprehensive immigration reform is one of the cornerstone issues the NAACP is currently working on.
“There should be a right to education for all youngsters,” he added. “Let’s do it!”