Tag Archive | "Senator Ruben Diaz Sr."

Advocates to Obama: Keep your promise

Around 400 concerned Bronx residents, politicians, and clergy marched down 159th Street and the Grand Concourse on Sunday imploring President Barack Obama to finally sign an executive order reforming America’s immigration laws.

It was an election promise the president failed to keep, the activists said. “Before he became President he promised us he will fix the problem with our immigration system in one year,” said Joel Bauza, pastor at Calvary Church in the Bronx and one of the organizers. “Three years later, we’re still waiting for him.”

Protesters said they became alarmed last week when the federal court in Alabama upheld a strict law requiring police and public school officials to verify the immigration status of detainees and students.

“The idea that just because you are brown skinned, you will be asked to show immigration papers is ridiculous and wrong,” said Bauza, from his perch in the back of an old pickup truck, where he was leading the marchers in chants. “They’re punishing all immigrants for the wrongdoing of a few.”

New York has approximately 625,000 undocumented immigrants, the fourth largest population in the nation, according to the Pew Hispanic center, a nonpartisan research organization. Half of the city’s undocumented residents live in the Bronx.

New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who called the March for Dignity of Immigrants, walked in front of the demonstrators arms linked with elected officials and ministers from the Hispanic clergy organization. The protesters chanted, “Yes we can, no more deportation, Obama, keep your promise, and no more separating families.”

The rally showed a growing disillusionment from the president’s key supporters in the last election. In 2008, an overwhelming 89 percent of Bronx voters cast their ballot for Obama. Sen. Diaz, Sr. warned that could change in 2012.

Others were more blunt. If the president doesn’t sign an immigration reform bill, he’s going to have to leave in 2012 said Dr. Hector Chiesa, a senior pastor at the Church of God on Third Avenue.

A contentious debate over immigration rages on the campaign trail among Republican contenders. Activists in the Bronx said their concern is bigger than who wins the next election.

“The government that is for the people will remain, it doesn’t matter the party line,” said Bauza. “Everybody is trying to make immigration into a Republican, Democratic, liberal or conservative movement, what happened to the people?”

Since Obama took office in January 2009, more than one million immigrants have been deported from the United States. That has raised many eyebrows around the country. During a roundtable discussion with Latino media last month, Obama sought to explain the staggering number of deportation saying the statistics is deceptive.

“With the stronger border enforcement, we’ve been apprehending folks at the borders and sending them back,” said Obama. “That is counted as a deportation even though they may have only been held for a day, or 48 hours.”

Activists insist separating loved ones is not a way to promote family values. “Deportation had left broken homes, children without fathers and mothers, families without hope,” said Diaz, Sr.. “The President can’t simply blame the Republicans or members of Congress for inaction. He can put this issue to rest if he wants to.”

The protesters welcomed the recent weeklong nationwide sweep that resulted in the arrest of 2901 convicted illegal immigrants, but cautioned that each case should be considered separately.

“Did they get arrested for criminal activities or simply because they were jaywalking?” asked Bauza.

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A fifth term for Diaz

Senator Diaz was out of the office on election day. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Diaz was out of the office on election day. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Bronx voters proved the power of incumbency on Tuesday, re-electing the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., an outspoken opponent of gay rights, to serve a fifth consecutive term as state senator.

The veteran Democrat’s re-election by an overwhelming majority comes amidst violent attacks on New York’s gay community and a public outcry against anti-gay hate crimes, the most brutal of which occurred in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx on Oct. 3.

Diaz took the 32nd District by an overwhelming 94 percent margin over his opponent, Michael Walters — a slight dip from his 99 percent victory in 2008, but a sign that voters cared more about party loyalty than Diaz’s anti-gay stance.

That’s a contrast to Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor, who was vilified for his statements about gays during his campaign, words that may have hurt him in the race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, which he lost by a 27 percent margin. Yet Diaz’s controversial stance on gay issues did not appear to present a similar hurdle to his quest for another two years in office. Of dozens of Bronx voters interviewed Tuesday, many distanced themselves from his extreme beliefs, yet voted for him nonetheless.

“Everybody has the right to choose who they want to love and spend their life with,” said Darlene Cruz, 53, of Soundview. “I don’t really care for Diaz, but I voted Democrat down the line.”

The wave of recent hostility against the gay community included the Oct. 3 hate crime, in which members of the Latin King Goonies allegedly tortured three Bronx men they suspected of being gay; the beating of two gay men at Julius Bar, New York’s oldest gay bar; and an attack on a gay man at the historic Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots largely credited with starting the modern gay rights movement. These incidents came after the highly publicized suicides of five gay teens across the country, among them Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22.

Diaz, who is a Pentecostal minister at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue, has 17 siblings, two of whom are gay. He released a statement days after suspects were arrested in the Bronx hate crime, condemning the attack but not the bias that motivated it. The omission sparked outrage from the gay community, which blamed the attack, in part, on Diaz’s own rhetoric. Diaz’s office declined to respond to several requests for an interview.

In the past, Diaz, the father of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., has called homosexuality an “abomination” and likened it to bestiality. He has also been the face of the opposition to same-sex marriage in the State Senate, blocking a May 2009 bill sponsored by Gov. David Paterson that would have legalized gay marriage in New York.

If Bronx residents were dismayed by the senator’s remarks, however, it did not change their vote.

“He’s entitled to his beliefs,” said Parkchester resident Lloyd Mitchell, 65. “I might not agree with everything he does, but I’ll still vote for him because he’s a Democrat.”

Diaz has long benefited from wide support from senior citizens because of his role as chair of the Senate Aging Committee. His campaign this year focused on blocking tax cuts in order to balance the budget.

Such work has struck a chord with Bronx voters, who did not seem to share the widespread dissatisfaction with incumbents that has surfaced in other parts of the country.

“He does a lot for the community, especially the seniors,” said Marilyn Villanueva, 37, of Castle Hill. Seventy-eight-year old Antonia Rosado affirmed that sentiment: “He’s one of ours,” she said, adding, “He’s been here a long time so he has experience.”

It may be Diaz’s connection to an older and more conservative constituency that has kept him in office. The most recent poll of New Yorkers on the legalization of same-sex marriage, from May 2009, showed a wide gap between support within younger and older generations. According to the Quinnipiac University poll, only 37 percent of New Yorkers older than 55 favor legalization, compared with 61 percent of those younger than 34.

“He has a certain amount of Latino voters that are older and tend to be more conservative on social issues,” said West Farms resident James Goodridge, 50. “As long as he has them, he’s not going anywhere soon.”

Last Tuesday, a rally outside Bronx Supreme Court gathered community activists who voiced their concern over the Morris Heights anti-gay hate crime. While there, they used bullhorns to vehemently denounce Diaz’s outspoken opposition to gay rights.

But a week later, the polls revealed that his stance was not a factor in voters’ decision to keep him in office. While his positions on gay issues are controversial in light of recent incidents, they are not shocking to the voters who have come to know him.

“He’s a Pentecostal preacher who doesn’t agree with gay marriage,” said Adam King, 36, of Throgs Neck. “For the gay community to fight about it only increases his defensiveness. The more they protest and criticize him, the more he wants to dig in.”

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