ELIZABETH – State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) seized upon U.S. President Barack Obama’s executive action on behalf of undocumented immigrants to launch an online petition drive meant to spur Congress into passing comprehensive immigration reform.
“Immigrants have built this country. They will to continue to build this country if we allow them, and we should,” said Lesniak to more than 30 residents, union officials and politicians at the Noches de Colombia restaurant in Elizabeth on Wednesday. “There are an estimated 11 million hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying undocumented residents in the United States, many with children who are United States citizens. We cannot and should not deport them. They are a vital part of our economy.”
While Lesniak lauded Obama’s move last month to use his executive authority to prevent the deportation of up to five million undocumented immigrants and allow many to work legally, Lesniak expressed his frustration that America’s immigration issue has yet to be decisively settled.
“Nearly a year and a half has gone by since the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform,” Lesniak said, referring to the June 2013 vote. “What happened next? Nada. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives did nothing, refusing to even put it up for a vote. We’re here today to send a message to the New Jersey Congressional delegation: Do your job. Either support [Democratic New Jersey U.S. Senators] Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and pass comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship, or vote against it if you wish. Doing nothing is not an option.”
Elizabeth is a majority-Latino city, and Latinos are a growing demographic, political and economic force across the nation. But Edward Correa, the Colombian-born executive director of Working Families United for New Jersey, emphasized that comprehensive immigration reform is not just for Latinos.
“Immigration is not a Latino issue. Immigration is an American issue,” Correa said. “We have about 525,000 unauthorized new Americans in New Jersey right now who are homeowners and contributing to the economy and the community. Many times they have brought back towns that were blighted with the energy of immigrant businesses. The first undocumented [immigrants] came on the Mayflower.”
“The United States is better than a melting pot. It’s a casserole,” added Lesniak, nothing that those interested in signing the petition should go to www.raymondlesniak.com. “It’s all flavors combined together and working together. We’re all in it together. Sign the petition and we’ll make sure Congress does their job.”
While Lesniak targeted Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner in his remarks as a main part of “the problem” with passing comprehensive immigration reform, he was reminded by a member of the press that Republicans will soon be in control of the Senate following their recent victories.
“I could get it done right away, but I’m not in charge,” Lesniak said, noting the change in party control. “Then [Congress] will have no excuses anymore.”