N.Y Guyanese rally for immigration amnesty
By Vishnu Bisram
October 14, 2003
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Two Saturdays ago, hundreds of Guyanese participated in a rally in Flushing Meadow Park for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, family reunification and the right to be free of abuses at their workplaces. Some proudly waved Guyana flags as well as the American flags as they joined one hundred thousand calling for “Justice, Amnesty, and Liberty”.
The rally was the culmination of a two-week cross-country caravan by 900 immigrants, including Guyanese, from 50 countries who invoked the spirit of the original freedom rides in 1961 when Blacks and their White supporters travelled the South to challenge racial segregation on buses and in bus terminals that rendered Blacks as inferior citizens.
The rally was organised by labour unions and immigrant rights groups. Guyanese Chuck Mohan, a labour leader, was one of the key New York organisers of the rally. Mohan made several trips to Richmond Hill to speak to Indo-Guyanese to urge them to make their presence known at the rally. And indeed many attended the rally, although not as many as Guyanese leaders of organisations would have liked.
This was a rally about an issue that was close to the heart of the Guyanese community considering that it is estimated that over twenty thousand live in the U.S. as illegal immigrants. They live in fear always worried that they would be picked up by immigration police. Since the rally addressed the concerns of immigrants, one Guyanese organiser said he had expected thousands of Guyanese to attend considering that over 150,000 live just a few miles from the park in Queens. Altogether, over a quarter million Guyanese live in the New York area.
Many Guyanese interviewed on Liberty Avenue and Flatbush Avenue said they did not show up for the rally out of fear of being picked up by immigration police and be deported. Fear is habit-forming among Guyanese even among legal immigrants; they do not have much experience in civic activities and responsibilities and do not like to express their rights in public. In the U.S, there is nothing to fear about attending a rally or joining a protest as no one is deported for simply attending a rally.
Nevertheless, the twenty thousand Guyanese among the 8.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S live with fear. Many have been here for years, doing work no one else will do for pay and or no one will take; they work as janitors, maids, cooks and farmhands. They are doing jobs the American economy demands be done. Many also have US-born children and need to remain here to provide for their citizen-children. They make significant contributions to the economy; giving more than in the services they receive.
Some Guyanese were happy to lend their support for the rally. One Guyanese-American citizen noted, “We are here because others before us fought for us to be allowed to stay here. It is now our moral duty to carry on the struggle giving the same right to today’s undocumented. We have to show we care for them as others showed that they care for us”.
Another Guyanese said he used to work over 12 hours daily without overtime; the law requires that a person be paid time and a half for hours beyond eight a day.