Submitted by Cira Raciti

Immigrant Voices: Immigrants tell their own stories at public meeting.

Immigration – a process by which people enter another country with the intention of making a better life for themselves and their families. Many move together with their families to a new country where they hope to find peace and/or job opportunities not available to them in their homeland. Immigration into the United States has been ongoing since the early 20th century with various groups of people coming upon our shores to work for the pursuit of a better life. Immigration is an uprooting experience.

Over the years, the immigration system has changed, becoming a broken system consumed by racism, bigatry and discrimination. Maria Valentin, Attorney at Law, believes that the immigration system is broken due to "lack of advocacy for humane and fair immigration laws".

On March 16, 2010 at the White Plains High School, White Plains, NY, a diverse group of adults somberly sat waiting to listen to the personal stories of immigrants – stories of people that could be living next door to you – and immigration reform.

Linda Berns , Director of the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York, opened up the meeting followed by Maria. Maria spoke about this country’s broken immigration system and the five legislative goals the New York City Liberties Union wishes to accomplish. The goals toward immigration reform are:

1. Provide a realistic pathway to citizenship
2. Respect immigrants’ constitutional rights
3. Treat immigrants in detention centers humanely
4. Reject backdoor attempts to establish a national ID card
5. End local enforcement of immigration laws.

Gisella Marroquin, an attractive young woman from Guatamala, told of her experience when, at the age of eight, she and her mom entered the United States. She quickly realized that since no one in her class spoke her language it was to her interest to learn their language – English. Gisella went on to explain her difficulty in nagivating through the scholastic system on her own for there were too many students in the ESL class. Yet, regardless of the large population of Latinos in school, Gisella was made to feel that she was "different". Years later, and through hard work, Gisella is presently working with a social service agency as a Director. She attributes her ability to help immigrants to her own experience and finds pleasure in giving assistance.

William Kaung, member of the Organization of Chinese Americans, an advocacy group for the rights of Asian-Pacific Islanders in the U.S., expressed the need for the U.S. government to become involved in immigration reform.


Zoila Tazi, currently a principal in a pre-school with 650 children and a published author, very animatedly told an amusing story of her family discovering popcorn in the U.S. Her mother placed the popcorn kernels in a pan with about 2 inches of oil and plenty of salt while commenting on the enginuity of Americans coming up with such a great snack. When the popcorn was all popped, it was spooned in individual bowls, then milk was poured over the popcorn. Zoila’s mother thought it was cereal!

Zoila when on to say that during the late 60’s Head Start was launched to support families in need of providing comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. Bilingual education was introduced as a right in New York. Back then the immigration laws were more merciful than they are today.

Zoila feels that immigrants represent a double dose of isms. They look different and sound different. People turn to civil liberties unions asking for support and looking for justice in their life. She states it is important to pay attention to language. Another ism – languagism: insidious messages that immigrants receive about belonging, about their intellectual capacity. Language is linked with being identified, therefore, Zoila feels it belongs on the agenda of groups defending civil rights thinking that if you can control how people speak you might control what they say.

Dr. Michelin, Chief of Staff and Director of Business Development at Health & Hospitals Corporation, accredits the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights movements for being able to speak to the group as a physician, who got to where he is through the struggles of others, regardless of how good his grades were.

The final speaker, Tom, born in the U.S., has been devastatingly impacted by the current immigration system. Tom left New York to live in Europe after he found out how impossible it was for his partner to come to NY legally due to juggling visas, from J1 to H1, and legal fees. Tom and his partner were eventually successful in obtaining a visa and possible green card. Tom’s voice trembled as he spoke of the possibilty of having to leave their home, friends, family and everything they knew in order to stay with the person he loved. Being "forced to choose between the person you love and your country, between your heart and your home." It was a nightmare.

Tom went on to say that Family Unification is a cornerstone in a long standing goal of American immigration policy. American citizens who fall in love with someone from another country are allowed to sponsor their fiance or spouse for immigration benefits and eventually adjust their status to a green card. There are many nations that allow gay and lesbian citizens to sponsor their partner for immigration. The United States does not. There is a bill pending before Congress called the Uniting Family’s Act that would change that. It would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their partner or spouse using the same process and procedures as applied to straight married couples including the same penalty for fraud. It is their hope that when Congress considers Comprehensive Immigration Reform to make sure it is truly comprehensive including gay and lesbian families.

During the Q&A a young woman, Virginia Noriega, introduced herself as a District Representative working for Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey. Virginia was sent to the meeting by Congresswoman Lowey, who lobbies for immigration reform, to represent her and to hear the concerns of her constituents.

As the meeting is approaching its conclusion, Maria declares that no longer allowed are the ignorant voices dominating the conversation. Education is needed. A dialog is needed to immigration reform. The group was earnestly asked to contact their Senator to move along the immigration bill towards immigration reform.

New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), is one of the nation’s foremost defenders of civil liberties and civil rights was founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. NYCLU is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight chapters and regional offices with approximately 50,000 members throughout the State of New York.