Immigrants Head to Washington to Rally While Obama Is Still There (NY Times)
By LIZ ROBBINS JAN. 11, 2017
Ninaj Raoul, executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, in her office in Flatbush, Brooklyn, on Tuesday. She is planning to attend a rally focused on the rights of immigrants called We Are Here to Stay in Washington on Saturday. CreditJoshua Bright for The New York Times
Nine busloads of immigrant activists from Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island will depart before dawn for the trip to Washington, intent on making their voices heard. They will be blasting protest playlists while carrying posters and flags, from the familiar rainbow to the worn colors of Haiti.
But they are not going to the better known Women’s March on Washington, planned for Jan. 21, the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. Instead, they are headed to the nation’s capital on Saturday for a more modest rally focused on the rights of immigrants, called We Are Here to Stay and scheduled to start at 11 a.m. at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church.
For these groups, there was a practical, if not urgent, reason to hold the rally on Jan. 14: Barack Obama will still be president.
“As an organizer, the 14th is a date that I feel safe mobilizing people to Washington,” said Natalia Aristizabal, of Make the Road New York, one of the rally’s sponsors. “We don’t know what’s going to happen after the inauguration.”
National and local organizers said they were concerned about the possibility of undocumented protesters being arrested during the new administration, especially since Mr. Trump said he planned to deport the two million to three million undocumented immigrants that he said had criminal convictions.
Cristina Jiménez, the executive director of United We Dream, the national organization promoting the interests of undocumented youth known as dreamers, called the threat to immigrant communities “imminent” and added: “To be quite frank, we fear the worst.”
That is not to say that immigrants will be avoiding the women’s march. Some organizations, like United We Dream and the New York Immigration Coalition, are partners in both, and there is other overlap. New York’s Arab-American Association, which is led by Linda Sarsour, is also a sponsor of the Women’s March, of which Ms. Sarsour is one of the main organizers.
New York Immigration Coalition members preparing signs and posters for the national immigration rally in Washington. CreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times
Part of the mission statement of the Women’s March calls on “immigrants of all statuses” to attend, but that event has a broader platform that includes issues of pay equity, reproductive rights and safety from domestic violence. Organizers of the immigrant rally said that their protest aims to highlight the disparate groups who make up their movement, and who represent the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
“It’s of the immigrant community, of people of color, it’s broader than people who are first generation,” said Muzna Ansari, 28, the immigrant policy manager for the New York Immigration Coalition. A child of Indian immigrants, she is Muslim. “It’s a moment of connection, too. There are black immigrants who we don’t talk about.”
Ninaj Raoul, a founder and executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, said she had seen the immigration rights movement focus on the ultra-organized Latino community since the 2012 election.
But black immigrants, who are far less likely to be undocumented, have pressing issues of their own, she said.
“Now more than ever it’s important for the Haitian voice to be heard in this movement,” Ms. Raoul said. “Not just for the incoming government, where we have so many reasons to be worried, but for the current government because of the actions they’ve taken on Haitian immigrants.”
Over the last several months more than 80 Haitian immigrants have walked into her Brooklyn office seeking help, she said, anguished by the shifting American policy that has left them separated from family members. And those living in the city because of temporary protection granted after their country’s 2010 earthquake do not know how long that will last.
Migrants from Haiti have flooded the southern border of Mexico since last spring, many making dangerous journeys through nine countries after fleeing South America. In September, the Obama administration detained Haitians at the U.S.-Mexico border arriving without visas and ordered deportations. Some pregnant women and mothers with children were given a temporary humanitarian reprieve to stay, but their husbands were deported.
After Hurricane Matthew struck in early October, the administration delayed deporting Haitians, but then resumed deportations in November.
Hundreds of volunteers, advocates and immigrants are planning to travel from New York to the immigration rally in Washington on Saturday. CreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times
For Haitians who have been living in the United States with temporary protection granted after the earthquake, that status that is set to expire in July. Ms. Raoul said that because Hurricane Matthew damaged food supplies, those Haitians did not know if they could return.
So Haitian immigrants are going to Washington to appeal to Mr. Obama while they still can. They want him to take executive action to grant Haitian migrants at the southern border permission to temporarily enter the United States on humanitarian grounds, and to extend the temporary protections for another 18 months.
Ms. Raoul plans to bring 10 Haitian immigrants, and their country’s flag, to Washington. They will take the bus from Sunset Park with 55 young people representing Atlas: D.I.Y., which serves undocumented immigrant youth in the neighborhood. Michelina Ferrara, the deputy director of Atlas, plans to blast her “revolutionary playlist,” with R&B and hip-hop artists, both on the bus speakers and from her fanny pack.
For those not traveling to Washington on Jan. 14, immigrant actions are also planned in 50 other cities. The New York Immigrant Coalition will be kicking off a statewide campaign called This is Our New York with events in Union Square; Hempstead, on Long Island; and the Hudson Valley.
By then, Kathia Gutierrez, 48, will be in Washington with her daughter, Kathya, 29. They arrived 16 years ago from Bolivia. Kathya works as a nanny, saving money for college; she can work legally because of President Obama’s program giving certain rights to undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children by their parents. Kathia, her mother, is an activist for Make the Road New York and is going to Washington to deliver a message for President-elect Trump: “Look out for the youth.”
They will be joined by others fighting for their own subset of immigrant rights, including Alexis Pampillón, 44, an Argentine immigrant who identifies as gender nonconforming; he and 20 others members of Make the Road’s L.G.B.T.Q. rights group will be leaving from Queens.
Make the Road’s members, drawn from places including Bridgeport, Conn.; Elizabeth, N.J.; and Pennsylvania, will fill eight buses. Not all will fit into the church in Washington, which has a capacity of about 2,500. More than 3,000 protesters are expected, organizers said.
Some, said Ms. Aristizabal of Make the Road, will stand outside with signs in Spanish and English: “Aquí Estamos y no Nos Vamos,” and “We are Here to Stay.”
That slogan is familiar, she said, adding, “But it has never been so much of a declaration of defiance.”