PLAINFIELD, NJ - More than 70 immigrants and supporters, including Assemblyman Jerry Green and Democrat candidate for Mayor Adrian Mapp, gathered at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church on Watchung Avenue in Plainfield to commemorate Labor Day, and demand a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
Organized by the 32BJ SEIU, the gathering mostly consisted of workers from the Plainfield and Bound Brook areas. Men, women and children of all ages waved signs and wore purple wrist bands to symbolize their support. A local female supporter, named Gladys, led the crowd of primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants in a chant, “Reforma! Ahora!” which translates to, "Reform Now!"
According to Eugenio Villasante, Communications Director for the Union, there are 90,000 workers in New Jersey, with 145,000 along the East Coast from Boston to Florida. This makes 32BJ the largest property services union in the country. Villasante said, “These are also workers who need, urgently, immigration reform…and want to be able to contribute more fully.”
A young mother named Vanessa spoke to TheAlternativePress.com about the significance of the rally. “For me personally,” she said, “this Labor Day March means security and stability for my family.” She expressed concern for one of her two children, and especially for her husband, who is an undocumented worker.
“Today, as we celebrate the contributions of the American worker, we cannot forget the diverse gifts and talents that immigrants have brought to our country," said Kevin Brown, State Director of 32BJ SEIU, in a press release to TheAlternativePress.com. “Reforming our broken immigration system is part and parcel to creating an economy that works for all of us," he said. While at the rally, Brown spoke of the significance of the Labor Day event.
“We think that on this Labor Day we should be remembering that the immigrant workers need immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” Brown said.
The 32BJ SEIU website records Kevin Brown as having been involved in the trade union movement since 1987, when he started working for SEIU as an organizer. The website also records that during those five years, Kevin Brown helped organize 1,000 cleaners who lived in the working-class areas of Washington, D.C. The grandchild of Russian and Polish immigrants, and raised in a Jewish family committed to Tikkum Olam –healing the world—Brown believes that humans have a "shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world.”
Translating English to Spanish for Democrat candidate for Mayor Adrian Mapp was Analilia Mejia, New Jersey political director of the union. Speaking of his appreciation of the unions, Mapp, said, “I owe where I am today to a very strong union. I am here to demonstrate my support for immigration reform.”
Mapp shared his ability to identify with the immigrant population as an immigrant from Barbados. He told the audience, “I am a believer in the Dream Act.” Expressing what he said is, “the need and importance of citizenship for all,” Mapp emphasized, “It is important for everyone to earn a decent wage.” Mapp stressed, “There should be the same pay for the same job. I have concern for women who are the head of their households.”
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and according to some statistical reports is lower than it was in the 1960s, adjusted for inflation.
Mr. Mapp said he would like to see an increase to $8.25 per hour.
Wrapping up the speeches for the day, and further emphasizing the need for a wage increase for all workers, was Democratic Assemblyman Jerry Green, who said, “I remember what it was like to be a teenaged father making only $55 a week.” Green continued to stress the significance of the workers to the economy of New Jersey and his support of immigration reform.
This summer, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation that included a pathway to citizenship on a bipartisan vote of 68-32. Through lobby days, phone banks, events and rallies, immigration advocates are keeping the pressure on House members to take an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill when they return from recess.
Advocates of the legislation also oppose work permits for undocumented workers without full citizenship, noting that it would relegate millions of people to a permanent underclass.
Opponents of the legislation have said that immigration reform would be unfair to those immigrants who have gone through proper channels to enter the country legally, and that it might make finding employment even more difficult for both legal immigrants as well as other citizens grappling with a high unemployment rate in a difficult economy.