NEW YORK – Immigration may be a top issue for U.S. voters this year, but crowds were sparse at the 27th annual International Immigrants Parade and Celebration held in midtown Saturday, which may have drawn as many police for crowd control as spectators or participants.
Police blocked off a swath of the Avenue of the Americas between 43rd and 58th streets, expecting thousands to march in the parade, but it was over in less than an hour. Participants at the event hailed from a handful of countries, including Albania, Georgia, Tibet and Vietnam. According to the parade event program, countries from all over the world, including Africa and Latin America, were expected to attend.
The low turnout at the parade may have more to do with the struggles of the International Immigrants Foundation, the parade’s long-time organizer, than lack of interest by immigrant groups. In January 2010, then-attorney general Andrew Cuomo sued the foundation for allegedly defrauding immigrants who came to the organization seeking legal help, a charge the group has denied. The foundation’s headquarters on West 44th street are now in foreclosure “due to the economic climate of the nation,” according to the 2012 parade program.
What the International Immigrants Parade lacked in numbers this year, though, marchers seemed to make up for in enthusiasm and advocacy for national causes. A line of young people in red “Abanian Roots” t-shirts snaked through the crowd, dancing and singing. Emigrants for Democratic Georgia set up an information table, and shiny sports cars drove along 6th Avenue, festooned with national flags.
“Immigration is a very important issue, and we are very happy to be invited to do this every year,” said Tan Le, 47, a member of the Vietnamese delegation. Le said that 200 people had come to represent their country from ten different states, including Georgia, Michigan, and Florida.
“Thank you very much, United States!” shouted Thanh Bui, a former lawyer wearing a thick woolen American flag cap with trailing striped ends. Bui said she had come to the United States from Vietnam “three years, eleven months and three days ago” as a refugee, and was eagerly awaiting the day that she could become a U.S. citizen.
“The U.S. helped me come out, Buddha and God and the U.S.,” Bui said. Though she lives in southern California, Bui said she’d made the trek to New York to participate in the parade, and will soon travel to Washington D.C., where she hopes to meet Barack Obama, whose photos appeared on a sign Bui was wearing. “I believe the president will help the people of Vietnam,” she said.
Following the failure of the federal DREAM Act, Obama is currently receiving measured praise from immigrants rights groups for a June 15 memorandum that gives deportation relief to qualifying undocumented immigrants under age 30 who came here as children, a move the president’s critics have called politically motivated and temporary.
"As president, I won't settle for a stopgap measure. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said at a meeting of Latino officials in Orlando. He did not provide specific details about what his own plan would entail.
Discussing the new measure, Obama acknowledged, "It's not a permanent fix. It's a temporary measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while offering some justice to these young people."
Saturday’s march through midtown Manhattan underscored undocumented immigrants’ current influence in American politics. The theme of the parade this year was “Marching for the Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants”.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, New York has approximately 100,000 young undocumented immigrants who could benefit from measures that would grant reprieve to those who illegally entered the United States as children.