Elected Leaders Launch “East Harlem Against Deportation” Campaign

José M. Serrano

April 24, 2009

In Conjunction with Local Families, Advocates and Non-Profits, including The Children’s Aid Society

Push for Halt to Unjust and Unnecessarily Aggressive Deportations; Amnesty International / USA Reports on Dramatic Increase of Immigrant Detentions

April 24, 2009

East Harlem, NY – Elected officials and community leaders today launched East Harlem Against Deportation, an innovative organizing effort to oppose flawed deportation and detention policies that are tearing families apart in this working-class neighborhood of Northern Manhattan.

The East Harlem Against Deportation initiative will include a letter-writing campaign to President Obama, outreach events, an internet blog, as well as the formulation of a specific policy agenda to protect undocumented immigrants and their families in New York.

The campaign is organized by a coalition of local elected leaders: State Senator José M. Serrano; Congressman Charles B. Rangel;  Congressman José E. Serrano; Assemblymember Adam Powell IV; Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer; and Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito. Elected leaders were joined by representatives from various non-profit organizations including: Amnesty International / USA, whose recently released "Jailed Without Justice" report detailed a dramatic increase in the number of immigrant detentions over the past decade; and The Children’s Aid Society, which has taken a lead role in organizing families as well as collecting appeal letters to send to the White House.

"Our country has deported more than 100,000 parents of US citizens in the last decade. That is an appalling number," said Senator Serrano. "Too many of those deportations took place in East Harlem, a community that has nurtured generations of hard-working immigrants. When I think how a single unjust deportation tears at the fabric of our families, our schools and our community, I am emboldened to fight for change."

"I applaud New York State Sen. Serrano, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Children's Aid Society, Amnesty International and other community leaders for galvanizing our community to take action on this issue," said Congressman Charles B. Rangel.  "The future of this nation rests on all of us pulling together to get this economy going. The undocumented who live among us are as a part of our communities as those who have been born here. They go to work, pay their taxes and send their children to school. They are not "illegal aliens" but real people who dream of a better life for their children and families, as we all do.

"We must find a way to fix our broken immigration system so that those who play such an important social and economic role in our neighborhoods can have an opportunity to reach their potential and keep this country strong."

"Anti-immigrant talking heads would do well to visit our community-based organizations in East Harlem," said Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito. " They would find a vibrant community of loving parents, people of faith and initiative, helping our economy, and working tirelessly to learn English. For too many years the mentality has been Dehumanize and Deport. But the overwhelming majority of immigrants in East Harlem embody the greatness of America. We must not relegate them to the shadows of fear," said the Councilmember.

"The Children’s Aid Society is pleased to support ‘East Harlem Against Deportation,’" said William Weisberg, Ph.D., Chief Operating Officer of The Children's Aid Society. "We have been proud to serve New York City’s immigrant communities for the past 156 years and strive to provide high quality services and opportunities for all children and families. As a united East Harlem community, we can combat feelings of fear and isolation with a strong message of hope and support for keeping families together."

"Today 200 ICE detainees in Port Isabel, Texas are on a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions at their detention center," Rosa Clemente, Campaign Director of Immigrant Rights, Amnesty International/USA . "There is evidence of abuse, and violations of human rights law, throughout the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE detention system. Amnesty International is proud to be a voice of activism for the 30,000 immigrants held in indefinite detentions everyday in the US, and we are asking that DHS and Secretary Janet Napolitano quickly implement all recommendations listed in our report ‘Jailed without Justice.’ No human being should be unjustly caged."

The number of US-born children with undocumented parents increased to four million in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. There are nearly one million undocumented residents in New York State, with perhaps 12 million across the country. While the Obama administration has suspended aggressive workforce raids by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, deportation proceedings continue to move forward.

The elected officials praised the President for his willingness to review existing immigration policy and work with Congress to enact reform. But they cautioned that rhetoric from anti-immigrant forces remains virulent, and has the potential to stoke violence and racism throughout the country, particularly in bad economic times.

The East Harlem Against Deportation builds upon a national effort by Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez and the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to generate widespread support for sensible immigration reform through grassroots organizing efforts across the country. On January 10, 2009, one such event at Iglesia La Sinagoga in East Harlem drew hundreds of residents who spoke out against unjust deportation, and submitted testimony detailing how their families had been impacted.

"Too many innocent individuals and families are at risk of being deported and having their lives devastated by the unjust and discriminatorily aggressive enforcement practices of the previous administration.  We need to protect such individuals from further harm and immediately revamp US deportation policy and practices in a sensible and humane way," said Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.

More information is available at the East Harlem Against Deportation blog: