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Immigrants march against budget cuts - Coalition advocates for the restoration of funding for services and languages classes

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More than a thousand immigrants marched from Battery Park to City Hall Plaza demanding a restoration of funding for immigration services and English language classes recently as councilmembers pledged their support for immigrant rights. “I am an immigrant! I am a new American New Yorker!” Queens Councilmember John Liu said. “We need our children to have a good education because that what everybody else gets. This is the capital of the world made up of people all over the world and we need municipal services just like everybody else.” The New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy organization for immigrant and refugee groups in New York State, organized the demonstration as part of its annual City Advocacy Day on March 26. Advocacy groups from all over the city, including Make the Road New York, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Haitian Americans United for Progress, and Asian Americans for Equality demonstrated and met with councilmembers on specific immigration issues relating to education, housing, labor, and health care. “Let me hear your voices for dignity! Let me hear your voices for justice! And let me hear your voices for immigrant New York!” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a Bushwick-based group which promotes economic justice and opportunity for New Yorkers. “It is time for action and today is the day for action.” Members of NYIC lobbied councilmembers on five major budgetary priorities: improving language access to housing services; restoring education funding, including $15 million towards hiring 339 ESL and bilingual teachers; restoring $11.25 million in funding for the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative and $1.5 million in the Adult Literacy Initiative, supporting community job centers; and ensuring access to health care through the Health Care Consumer Navigation Program. “We’re working with them to identify what those budget priorities are and to actively think of solutions,” said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “The ball is in their court, and we’ll see how responsive they are.” Surrounded by a peaceful maelstrom of immigrant voices, several councilmembers and city officials voiced their support for the NYIC’s budget and policy priorities at the rally. Many of the elected officials who spoke were immigrants or children of immigrant families themselves. “I support restoring services for immigrants, especially ESL classes. Insufficient funding for Adult Literacy and English Classes is preventing immigrant New Yorkers from participating fully in U.S. society. The City should do all it can to provide essential services to this constituency,” said Councilmember Letitia James. Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised $500 million in education funding for the next fiscal year, but it was not included in the most recent budget proposal. Several councilmembers who spoke highlighted the education cuts, particularly the proposed reduction in English Language Learning, which would likely result in 113 bilingual teachers losing their jobs. “There is no way we will pass a budget without making sure that immigrants receive the essential city services they need the city to provide, whether it is education, health care and other initiatives,” Councilwoman and Co-Chair of the Black and Latino Caucus Maria Del Carmen Arroyo said. Restoring funding for every initiative proposed might be difficult in a budget climate where the city has proposed cuts across the board, according to Friedman. “We are hopeful that [Speaker Quinn’s office] will do the right thing and stand up for immigrant New Yorkers in the budget process and beyond, as they set the Council’s legislative priorities for the next 6 months,” Friedman said. Several immigrant advocacy groups believed that legislation such as the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, which would fund English classes, immigrant legal services, and immigrant worker legal services, and the Equal Access to Housing Services Act stood a better chance of passing than the health insurance and job center programs, but NYIC and its member organizations remained committed to advocating for all their priorities. With so many elected officials speaking at the Advocacy Day rally, it appeared that City Council was listening. “The point of the whole day is to send a message to elected officials in the city that immigrants are a higher percentage of the local population and are more organized than before,” Friedman said. “Politicians ignore immigrant priorities at their own peril.” For more information on the New York Immigration Coalition, call 212-627-227 or go to www.thenyic.org. For more in Make The Road New York, call 718-418-7690 or go to www.maketheroad.org.

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