Immigration, Prison Reform Advocates Launch Early Debate Rallies

Demonstrators bring issues to Hofstra campus, the site of Tuesday's Presidential Debate.

Immigration reform, mass incarcerations and gun violence are among the issues that have not garnered enough attention during the 2012 Presidential campaigns so far, according to advocates who spoke at Hofstra University Monday.

One day before the Long Island campus plays host to the second debate between President Barack Obama and GOP Candidate Mitt Romney, lobbyists rallied at Hofstra in hopes of putting these issues in the spotlight.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who represents New York's 12th Congressional District, held an impromptu press conference outside Hofstra's Student Center Monday to address the lack of focus on immigration policies and remind voters, Latinos especially, where both candidates stand on the issue.

"It amazes me and it pains me that up to this day, the Presidential Commission has not dealt with one issue that is so important to millions of people who live in this country ... immigration. It has been totally invisible and absent," Rep. Velazquez said.

Summing up both candidates’ positions, Velazquez said, “Mitt Romney has taken the most extremist conservative positions expressed by any modern presidential candidate.”

Velazquez said Romney has gone on record stating that he would veto the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that provides conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents, revoke deferred deportation and advocate for self-deportation “with total disregard for the fact that he will keep families apart.” She also said comments Romney made in the notorious leaked tape from a private fundraiser showed a “lack of empathy and insensitivity to the Latino community.”

On the other hand, she said, “President Obama has supported comprehensive immigration reform.” Velazquez explained that after the DREAM Act failed in the Senate due to lack of Republican support, Obama issued an executive order providing for deferred deportation "helping many [undocumented] students … go to college, get support and be able to become productive citizens of our society."

Velazquez was joined by some of these students at Hofstra Monday, including Cesar Vargas, 29, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who now lives in Staten Island.

"Immigration should be a major issue in the debate,” said Vargas, who immigrated to the United States when he was 5. “It affects our life and our families. Romney has taken an extreme position on this and the Latino community is watching very closely. Half my family are citizens and will be voting for the first time.”

Vargas recently graduated from CUNY Law School and is applying for the bar, while also seeking a deportation deferment.

“When I go out of state, people tell me I am a New Yorker because of my accent. That's who I am,” Vargas says. “To be an American doesn’t mean you look a certain way. It's about ideals. This is my country.”

Outside Hofstra’s campus, Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood and a group of young African-American boys from Brooklyn spent Monday advocating against gun violence, mass incarcerations and re-entry along Hempstead Turnpike.

“Re-entry is the return of people who are victims of what I call the Draconian-Rockefeller laws, three strikes and you’re out,” Rev. Youngblood told Patch. “They are now coming back to our communities, returning in Brooklyn at a rate of 3,000 a year, and there is no housing, no education and no jobs ... What tends to happen is they wind up being re-incarcerated and we want to address that.”

Rev. Youngblood is also fighting for reforms to "revenue-generating" laws that he says lead to the “criminalization” of people, senior citizens included, who fail to respond to summonses for benign offenses such as public urination, curbing their pets and open containers.

“We have people as old as 92 with those C-summons charges,” he said. “It starts out as a summons, but if you don’t honor it, it becomes a warrant … and you [can then be] arrested, handcuffed, put in a police car and spend one night in jail.”

Read more about the upcoming Presidential debate.



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