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September 17th, 2003, 11:37 PM
September 18, 2003

Mayor Widens Privacy Rights for Immigrants


Under pressure from immigration groups and the City Council, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg revised his immigration policy yesterday to make it much harder for city agencies to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

Mr. Bloomberg had found himself in an increasingly difficult, even untenable, political position since May when he sought to comply with a 1999 federal court ruling that struck down the city's longstanding policy of prohibiting city employees from passing on such immigration information.

Mr. Bloomberg, noting that the ruling made the "don't tell" policy illegal, had instead replaced it with a "don't ask" policy that restricted most city employees from asking about a person's immigration status. The order largely exempted police officers, though the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, later tried to clarify the department's position to reassure immigrants.

Many City Council members and immigrant groups had criticized the mayor's policy as a step backward and asserted that it would discourage illegal immigrants from seeking medical assistance and other basic city services. Meanwhile, Mr. Bloomberg's standing with Hispanic voters plummeted, even as he tried to win their support in various ways, including visiting the Dominican Republic and dancing the merengue.

But yesterday, he received a much different reception as many of these same critics came to City Hall to praise his efforts to expand protections for immigrants.

Using more than a dozen ceremonial pens that he passed out to representatives of the very groups that had been criticizing him, the mayor signed a new executive order on immigration. It established a broad new privacy policy that would prohibit city workers in most cases from giving out information about not just a person's immigration status, but also sexual orientation, income tax records and welfare assistance, among other things. It also applies to law enforcement officers, except in cases involving criminal activity and terrorism.

"It gives assurance to all law-abiding New Yorkers whether you're an immigrant, a victim of domestic violence, or any taxpayer that the confidential information you give to the city will stay with the city," the mayor said, flanked by Mr. Kelly and Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

Michael A. Cardozo, the city's corporation counsel, said that by expanding the privacy policy to cover other kinds of personal information, the new immigration policy could still comply with the 1999 ruling.

"The court had said you can't have a policy just for immigration," he said. "And if in fact you had an overall confidentiality policy not just for immigration, but for domestic violence, for tax issues, for sexual assault that it would be a very different situation, and they did not rule that that would be illegal. They left that question open."

Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School, concurred with several other legal experts that the federal court "hinted that it might rule a different way" if the city were to adopt a broader policy that protected confidential information generally.

"The mayor's new order appears to be an effort to do just that," he said. "It remains to be seen whether the new order adequately protects immigrants and others, and whether the federal government will challenge the new city order."

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that his agency's primary concern with the city's new policy was whether it would affect their enforcement efforts. "If local law enforcement encounters individuals who are in this country illegally, particularly if they are engaged in criminal activity, it is important that they coordinate with us," he said.

Under the executive order, the "don't tell" provisions specifically do not apply to people suspected of criminal or terrorist activities.

Immigrant advocates said yesterday that they had met repeatedly with the mayor's staff to negotiate an immigration policy that they could all support. Mr. Miller and 36 council members had even endorsed a competing bill, in case talks failed.

Councilman Hiram Monserrate, the bill's sponsor and one of the mayor's most outspoken critics on this issue, said yesterday that while his bill had offered broader protections for immigrants, the mayor's order had incorporated the most important elements.

"I think that we are in a much better place," he said, "because in essence, this policy has a "don't ask, don't tell" provision which has never existed in the City of New York."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

October 3rd, 2003, 01:25 AM
October 3, 2003

Rally in Queens Will Seek Legalization of Illegal Immigrants


Immigrants' groups and labor unions are planning a huge rally in Flushing Meadows tomorrow to cap a nationwide effort to win greater rights for immigrant workers.

The rally's organizers say they expect to attract more than 100,000 immigrants and their supporters, who will call for granting legal status to the nation's more than eight million illegal immigrants.

The rally is the end point of a two-week immigrant-rights campaign called the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride in which 18 buses carrying 900 immigrants and their allies traveled from 10 cities across the nation, first to Washington and then to New York.

"We're holding this rally because such a large share of the work force in urban America and all across America is foreign-born," said Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council. "We need to show them our support because such a large share of immigrants earn wages that place them at or below the poverty line. Something needs to be done."

Speakers at the rally will include Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York; John J. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.; and Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who helped organize the 1961 freedom rides to integrate bus terminals in the South.

This week's bus caravan aims to copy the 1961 rides by drawing attention to a group at the bottom that often faces discrimination.

Tomorrow's rally will be held at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition to the speakers, the rally will have several prominent musicians, including Wyclef Jean, Bronco, the Mighty Sparrow and El Prodigio.

"This rally will be huge," Mr. McLaughlin said. Some of the city's largest unions, including 1199/S.E.I.U., the health care workers union; the Transport Workers Union; and Unite, the apparel workers' union, say they plan to send thousands of workers to the rally. Church groups as well as groups of Hispanic, Haitian and Chinese immigrants also plan to send large contingents.

To maximize turnout, the Central Labor Council has set up special offices in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. The new freedom riders also want fewer civil liberties violations against immigrants and more labor protections for immigrant workers as well as more family-reunification visas from Congress.

The 18 buses of the freedom ride are scheduled to go today to Liberty State Park in Jersey City for a large rally. That rally, scheduled for 1:30 p.m., will feature Gov. James E. McGreevey, Senator Jon Corzine, Mr. Sweeney and several union presidents.

The nation's labor unions have been the main sponsors of the freedom ride. Union leaders say they hope the effort will attract more immigrants to unions, help improve conditions for immigrant workers and demonstrate to immigrants that unions can help improve their wages and working conditions.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

October 4th, 2003, 09:17 PM
October 5, 2003

Immigrants Rally in City, Seeking Rights


Tens of thousands of immigrants rallied in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens yesterday with the hope of promoting an immigrants' rights movement that will capture the nation's conscience the way the 1960's civil rights movement did.

Coming from Mexico, China, Haiti and many other countries, the immigrants are seeking to persuade lawmakers in Washington to, among other things, grant legal status to more than 8 million immigrants.

"America is a land of immigrants; it was built by immigrants," said Roger Toussaint, an immigrant from Trinidad who is president of New York City's Transport Workers Union. "The justice that was extended to the immigrants of the past should be extended to the immigrants of today."

Organizers estimated that about 100,000 immigrants and their supporters crowded into the park, where they rallied alongside the giant steel globe, known as the Unisphere, that was the symbol of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, was welcomed with heavy applause and spoke for 10 minutes in Spanish before turning to English.

"We cannot go on simply ignoring and tolerating the plight of our brothers and sisters," Cardinal Egan said. "Families are being damaged by cruel separation and in all too many instances shameful advantage is being taken of men and women in the work force who do not have proper papers."

The rally was the final effort in a two-week campaign known as the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, in which 18 buses carrying 900 immigrants and their supporters traveled from Los Angeles, Seattle and eight other cities to Washington and New York to press their case for immigrants' rights. The effort was inspired by the 1961 Freedom Rides, in which blacks and their allies boarded buses to help end segregation in bus terminals in the South. White vigilantes severely beat some of those freedom riders and firebombed one of their buses.

"Forty-two years later, the freedom riders of 2003, you, are going to win," Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and an organizer of the 1961 freedom rides, told the crowd. "We are one people, we are one family, we are one house, and we are not going to let anybody turn us around. We've come too far."

The rally was in many ways a multicultural festival, with salsa and reggae music, signs in Creole and Spanish, and wafting smells of tortillas and jerk chicken.

The demonstrators called for granting legal status to illegal immigrants, for creating more family reunification visas and for increased workplace protections for immigrants because they are often exploited on the job. In addition, the demonstrators called for an end to civil liberty violations against immigrants, complaining that many law-abiding immigrants have faced harassment and detentions since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In 2001, the immigrants' rights movement was gathering steam as the Mexican government worked with immigrants' groups and labor unions to persuade Congress and President Bush to grant legal status to many illegal immigrants. But the Sept. 11 attacks derailed that push because the government's focus turned to border security.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn said that the way immigrants have been treated was a blot on the nation's conscience. "They are often ridiculed, exploited and abused," he said to loud cheers. "This must stop, and this immoral system must be changed."

Church groups, labor unions and immigrants groups sent hundreds of buses to the rally, while many demonstrators arrived by subway and car. Chartered buses brought students from Brown, Columbia, Wesleyan, Yale and other universities and colleges.

Organizers chose Queens for the rally largely because it has so many immigrants from so many different countries and is widely seen as one of the nation's most diverse counties. At the rally, flags from Colombia, Haiti, El Salvador and other countries waved in the light drizzle.

Marian Thom, who works as a paraprofessional at a middle school in Chinatown, said she came to the rally because, "We need to do more to reunify families. And we need better jobs because immigrants have the lowest-paying jobs."

Organized labor was the rally's chief financial sponsor because unions are hoping to improve relations with immigrants, secure better working conditions and persuade many to join unions.

"The struggle of immigrant workers is our struggle," said the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, John J. Sweeney, whose father was an Irish immigrant. "We believe, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Critics questioned the effectiveness of the freedom ride and Flushing Meadows rally. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that favors stronger restrictions on immigration, said, "The people who would need to be persuaded to support an amnesty for illegal immigrants are Republicans, and busloads of illegal immigrants hijacking the vocabulary of the civil rights movement is not a recipe for currying favor with Republican congressmen."

Many employers, including hotels, restaurants and agricultural growers, support the immigrant rights movements, believing that granting legal status to illegal immigrants would spare employers the risk of illegally employing illegal workers. But critics of eased immigration rules warn that granting legal status to illegal immigrants will merely spur new waves of illegal immigration.

The rally's sponsors have not detailed what legislation they would like to grant legal status to illegal immigrants. But in a rally in Washington on Thursday, the sponsors voiced support for a bill that would grant legal status to more than 500,000 illegal farm workers and to illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years and have graduated from American high schools.

The crowd appeared as a sea of colorful signs and shirts, that said, "No Human is Illegal," "Justicia, Amnestia, Libertad," and "Building Immigrants' Voices and Votes,"

Representative Charles Rangel, a Manhattan Democrat and head of the city's Congressional delegation, said yesterday's rally would move the nation the way the 1960's civil rights marches did. "Forty years ago we marched, we prayed, we asked for a more just America," he said. "Today you are making history. You are waking our country together."

Speaker after speaker said the rally should be the beginning and not the end of an effort, with immigrants stepping up their campaign for expanded rights and protections.

As the bus riders crossed the country, they held rallies in Tucson; Memphis; Birmingham, Ala.; Boise, Idaho; New Haven and 100 other cities.

Outside El Paso, Tex., immigration officials stopped two buses traveling from Los Angeles and threatened riders with arrest and deportation. The riders refused to show their documents, and after a three-hour stalemate, they were released, but only after union presidents, members of Congress and bishops called the Bush administration to ask that the buses be let go.

"People do want to see change in this country that gives everyone a fair break," said Maria Elena Durazo, the chairwoman of the rally. "I think it's a new day for the immigrant community."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company