400 People Gather on The Commons in Ithaca To Demand Rights for Immigrants

Reprinted with permission from Ithaca Community News.

On May 1, the Commons in downtown Ithaca was packed with nearly 400 immigrant rights activists. The rally was part of a national day of action to declare “No Human is Illegal.”

The protests around the nation helped bring light to the flaws in the Sensenbrenner Bill which quickly passed the House last December with almost no debate. The bill, otherwise known as the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act, would affect all of the eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country, as well as those who support or employ undocumented workers by making it a felony to either be an illegal immigrant or to assist one.

Speakers at the Ithaca rally included Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson, Nathan Shinagawa, County legislator, Dan Lamb, legislative aide to Maurice Hinchey, Linda Smith, legislative aide to Barbara Lifton, novelist Helena Viramontes, Marcia Fort, Director of GIAC, and many others.

Students from Cornell and Ithaca College marched to the Commons from their respective campuses, with Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) students joining Ithaca College.

Additionally, about fifty students from the Lehman Alternative Community School took part in the rally, as did the entire fifth grade from Beverly J. Martin elementary school, and students from Ithaca High School’s ESL/immigrant class.

A repeated message given to the crowd was the reminder that we are a nation of immigrants. The vast majority of U.S citizens have ancestors who emigrated from other countries. Today, a large portion of the workforce is made up of immigrants.

In honor of the day, two local businesses closed down: Pizza Aroma, and Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities often assists undocumented immigrants in their charity work, and the national organization has spoken out publicly against the Sensenbrenner bill.

Locally, the number of undocumented workers is nearly impossible to count, according to Leonardo Vargas-Mendez, Executive Director of the Public Service Center at Cornell. Reasons for this vary. Often, census numbers of all immigrants in the county include Cornell students here on visas, while the “underground” populations are not always counted in census figures.

Still, according to Mary Jo Dudley, who works at the Cornell Migrant Program and spoke at the rally, says there are likely between 40,000 and 60,000 migrant farmworkers in New York State, and of those, between seventy-five and eighty-five percent are unauthorized workers.

Other immigration bills introduced in the senate include the “Securing America’s Borders Act,” by Bill Frist (R-TN), and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, also known as the “Hagel-Martinez Compromise.” The latter was introduced in March and would provide approximately 10 million undocumented immigrants with permanent residence within six to eight years.

Local immigrants who need help with workplace or housing issues can contact the Immigrant Rights Center in Ithaca, located above Autumn Leaves Used Books at 115 the Commons, or by calling 260-0409.

By Elizabeth Bauchner, editor and publisher of Ithaca Community News.