For Immediate Release: June 20, 2009

Contact: Betsy DeWitt – 917-609-6682 Barbara Marniche – 718-496-0258

As President Obama sets his sights on immigration reform, American kids from immigrant families, as well as elected officials, religious leaders, and concerned citizens gathered at Union Square Park to let him know that New Yorkers’ priority is to keep our families together!

“I have always said that we must do everything in our power to keep families together regardless of their immigration status,” said Congressman Serrano about the event. “With the great work being done in support of my Child Citizen Protection Act, I believe we are closer than ever to the goal of including it in comprehensive immigration reform. Children and families must be at the center of the debate on immigration reform. New Yorkers know this, and with the help of many great organizations, we are helping the rest of the country to understand this as well.”

In the past fiscal year, nearly 350,000 people were deported, leaving behind thousands of American kids who need their moms and dads. A study released by Congressman Serrano in February of 2009 found that from 1998 – 2007 more than 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported. Currently, due to changes in laws in 1996, immigration judges have no discretion in almost all deportation cases and effectively serve to rubber stamp deportation orders. The Child Citizen Protection Act (HR 182) is the only bill currently in Congress that unties the hands of immigration judges to consider the best interests of U.S. citizen children during deportation proceedings.

Standing in front of a wall of broken hearts, children expressed their fear and anxiety over the prospect of their families being torn apart. Over the past few months, hundreds of hand-made broken hearts were collected by U.S. citizen children, symbolizing the pain and emptiness they feel due to deportation policies. “Broken families lead to broken hearts. We will send our broken hearts to Congress, so they understand the injustices we are forced to face because of inhumane immigration laws,” said Mizue Aizeki, coordinator of the Families for Freedom Youth Committee.

The vigil paid special tribute to immigrant fathers fighting to stay with their families. Roxroy Salmon, a Brooklyn father and grandfather, and a long time advocate of HR 182, is caught in the maze of current immigration laws. As he stood side by side with his children, his daughter, Nyasha, commented, “Father’s Day is a special day dedicated to fathers who deserve to be honored… But, for my father, he deserves to be honored everyday.” Mr. Salmon’s final hearing on July 7th will determine whether or not his children’s right to family unity will be honored. “He took care of me from a child and I can’t see my life without him…I am thankful that I have a day to give back just a little of what my father has done for me,” said thirteen year old Elijah Salmon.

The event also celebrated the overwhelming support New York has shown for this bill. This year, New Yorkers have answered the cry to the crisis of separating families as they lobbied, called, wrote and visited Congress to work towards making this legislation a reality. Currently, influential Congress members have cosponsored the bill, including Representatives Yvette Clarke, Jerrold Nadler, Gary Ackerman, Maurice Hinchey and Charles Rangel of New York.

After the vigil, attendees participated in a street corner speak-out, educating the community about the struggle and uncertainty these children face on a daily basis. It is the goal of organizations like Families for Freedom and the New York New Sanctuary Coalition to bring awareness to and continue the fight to pass the Child Citizen Protection Act.

Inspired by the children, NY State Senator Serrano said in a statement, “Today we declare, in a united voice, that a Country priding itself on family values, must stop tearing families apart; and that a City so deeply tied to the immigrant experience will continue to embrace the principles of freedom for all. On behalf of the residents of the 28th Senate District – residents of all color and class, status and station – I stand proudly in support of New York’s immigrant community on this historic occasion.” ###