A Friend Downtown
Coalition Unites Immigrants
By Andrew Moesel
Benjamin Franklin once drafted a famous cartoon showing a snake cut into eight pieces, each one representing a different colony, with bold words underneath the illustration reading “Join, or Die.” It was a vivid reminder that likeminded groups must stick together to achieve common goals, or their ideas will perish into forgotten history.
Back then, European settlers were the immigrants joining together to deal with Iroquois Indians, who have since been titled “Native Americans.” Today, modern immigrants groups ironically are adopting the same strategy to gain traction with the current establishment: banding many groups as one to make their voices heard.
The staging point for much of that collaboration has come at the New York Immigration Coalition, which works with about 150 different immigrant advocacy groups from around New York and the nation. With that broad support, the NYIC, based out of a ninth-floor office just off 25th Street in Manhattan, has tackled issues ranging from increasing voter registration to improving education for second-generation immigrants.
“With its multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-sector base, the NYIC provides both a forum for immigrant groups to share their concerns and a vehicle for collective action to address these concerns,” it reads on the group’s Web site.
The coalition formed in response to a 1986 federal bill, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which put stiffer penalties on undocumented immigrants and the employers who hired them. It started as a simple effort to mobilize the city’s immigrant leadership against the bill, but the organization has since blossomed into one of the most influential immigrant groups in the city.
These roots were echoed in a Dec. 21 demonstration where more than 100 people gathered outside the federal building in lower Manhattan to protest a bill that recently passed the House of Representatives, The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act. That law would it much easier to detain and deport both documented and undocumented immigrants.
“President Bush and every member of Congress who voted for this bill have made a very grave mistake,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of NYIC. “Instead of caving in to an extremist minority, we demand that our leaders push for real reforms that will allow immigrant workers to contribute to our nation’s economic prosperity and our social and cultural vibrancy.”
Ana Maria Archila, executive director of the Latin American Integration Center, based in Queens, said her group’s involvement with the NYIC gives them access to a world of resources they wouldn’t have on their own, including members in the 150 other affiliates and general experience in advocacy. In other words, it brings the old “strength in numbers” adage to life.
“It allows us to create some of these changes,” Archila aid. “As one agency, we would not be able to change the legislation alone.”
Under the NYIC umbrella, immigrant groups have helped thousands become citizens and later register to vote. The growing political force has put pressure on politicians to fund immigrant causes and pass pro-immigrant reforms.
Even with the national climate making for an uphill battle, advocates maintain hope their work will make a difference.
“We are not necessarily winning,” Archila said. “We are actively locally organizing a block of people that have a clear understanding of what is at stake, and what good immigrant reform would be.”
To learn more, go to www.thenyic.org.