Dozens of Hispanic New Yorkers, many still dressed in work clothes, packed into the Jackson Heights, Queens headquarters of activist group Make the Road New York this evening to watch President Barack Obama’s announcement of his executive order for immigration reform on a single flatscreen TV.
Before the president spoke, a succession of local speakers and elected officials addressed the crowd in Spanish, repeatedly using the phrase “noche histórico”–“historic night”–to describe to the occasion: the declaration of Mr. Obama’s plan to allow some four million undocumented immigrants who have resided in the United States for five years to register to avoid deportation and work legally in the country, permitted they have no criminal record. Chants like “Obama, eschucha: estamos en la lucha,” and “sí, se puede”–“Obama, listen: we are in the fight,” and “yes, we can”–broke out several times among the audience.
Local Councilman Daniel Dromm was the first elected official to arrive, and spoke to the crowd in Spanish. He praised the president’s action on the issue over the resistance of the Republican-controlled Congress, but said that it was necessary to provide full amnesty to all of the foreign nationals living in the country.
“We will have much courage until after also all of the immigrants, the 11 million of immigrants that are living in the United States are included,” Mr. Dromm said in Spanish.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a native of Puerto Rico representing East Harlem, reiterated that sentiment when she addressed the predominantly Mexican and Central American crowd.
“The action of the president is important,” she said, also in Spanish. “But still the fight is not finished.”
Following shortly afterward was State Senator Jose Peralta, the first Dominican-American elected to the State Senate. The lawmaker compared Mr. Obama’s conflict with Congress to the Democratic push in the GOP-run State Senate for the Dream Act, which would give state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants attending college in New York.
“Like him, we are fighting with the Congress to pass the Dream Act,” Mr. Peralta said.
The room then went silent for Mr. Obama’s address, carried live on a Spanish language channel. Occasionally the 7 train rumbled by on the elevated trestle just outside the door and garbled the satellite signal–and the president’s face and voice.
After Mr. Obama’s speech, the room burst into another round of chants and cheering, now repeating “Congreso, escucha: estamos en la lucha!” Assemblyman Francisco Moya rose to speak.
“This is a very special night for all of us here in the fight,” Mr. Moya said. “This is not only in New York, but in the capital of this nation, Washington D.C.”
A teary-eyed Ms. Mark-Viverito spoke to reporters afterward in English, and had only unqualified praise for the president and his action, despite Republican objections.
“The action that is being taken is going to be a relief to millions of families, it is going to be helpful to the economy, and it truly represents the ideals that this nation stands for,” she said. “He has a lot of courage in what he is doing.”
She savaged the Republicans who claimed that Mr. Obama is overstepping his authority.
“It’s not just a Latino issue, this is an issue that cuts across many communities, this is an action that is desperately needed, and we understand that this is a reactionary Congress, and those that are in the Republican Party that are extreme don’t believe that the president has this authority, which he does have,” she alleged. “What the Republicans are doing is extremely irresponsible, they’re trying to incite fear, and the fear-mongering and the hate-mongering that is happening is not helpful to this nation.”