Coraje was the Spanish word used by one immigrant yesterday while talking about Governor Spitzer's decision to scuttle a plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The word wasn't meant to connote courage — it means rage.
Frustrated, defrauded, and sad were other words used in reaction to news of Mr. Spitzer's abrupt about-face by immigrants gathered yesterday morning along a stretch of East 116th Street dotted by Mexican tamale stands.
"It's an injustice. … We just want to work more than anything," an immigrant from Mexico, Margarita Ranjel, 37, said as she sipped rocked a stroller.
"We aren't terrorists," she said. It has been a year of resounding and dramatic defeats for immigrant advocates, with the failure of the driver's license plan only the latest in a series of failures to push through immigration reform on the state and national stages. Last spring, a comprehensive immigration reform bill widely expected to make it through Congress suddenly sputtered and died. Then, a separate bill known as the DREAM Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students enrolled in American universities, collapsed in the Senate.
"There have been quite a few defeats. If you had a plan for a better job, a better life, it's over," Lidia Calleja, 31, of Mexico said in Spanish.
"It's all gone down the drain," the executive director of the Queens-based nonprofit New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Valeria Treves, said. "I'm not sure what the next steps are ... but we're not going to disappear just because the laws don't favor us."
While frustrated and more than a little depressed, many advocates also seemed determined not to resign themselves to defeat.
The New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization that includes about 200 groups, said Mr. Spitzer's decision to abandon the plan "serves as a call to action" for immigrant communities.
"The focus must return to federal immigration policy," the executive director of the coalition, Chung-Wha Hong, said in a statement. "In the end, the debate was never really about licenses. The governor's policy proposal was a stop-gap measure to deal with a more fundamental issue: whether to create a path to citizenship for the nation's undocumented workers."