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Latino reformer addresses immigration activists

Ten-term U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leading voice and advocate on immigrant concerns in the United States, came to Jackson Heights Saturday morning to give a pep talk to organizers and leaders looking to help the nation’s millions of immigrants.

As the first Latino elected to Congress from the Midwest, Gutierrez has championed comprehensive immigration reform, putting an end to unnecessary deportations and changing the overall tenor of the national conversation on the issue.

He brought that message to the packed house at Natives Restaurant, at 82-22 Northern Blvd., expressing his hope and frustration with a sense of conviction that he speaks for the nation’s greater immigrant community.

Gutierrez addressed several dozen immigrant experts, organizers, city, state and elected officials and labor leaders in a lengthy, rousing speech that brought listeners repeatedly to their feet to cheer the words of one of the highest-profile Hispanic lawmakers in American history.

“Mira: We have a challenge as an immigrant community and particularly as a Latino community. In 15, 20 years, do you want to look back at this moment and say I only signed a petition or I just signed a letter?” he boomed. “I will not be silent in the Congress of the United States when there are 4 million children whose parents are undocumented.”

Pointing out that 12,000 people are deported from America each day, he also criticized the immigration policies and priorities of President Barack Obama — a fellow Democrat — saying that he needs to do more to stand up for immigrants’ rights and focus less resources on border control and punitive measures.

“We have tried for two years to move this administration forward on comprehensive immigration reform .... and the administration has failed us,” he said. “This administration has an immigration policy that is ripping our communities asunder, and we must stand up and say ‘no.’”

The event was a leadership breakfast aimed at building support and organizing efforts to support more immigrant-friendly policies in federal, state and city governments across the country.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) drew on his own experiences to push the message that he and everyone else concerned about immigrants need to focus their efforts on effecting real change.

“As a son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, I understand the struggles of immigrants,” he said. “So I said I’m going to stand up for those people that don’t have a voice when it come to standing up for their rights.

The event was attended by a number of other area politicians, including Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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