Immigrant workers launch Freedom Ride

NEW YORK – Something historic is brewing. Inspired by the freedom rides of the civil rights movement, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride is now being organized for Sept. 20 – Oct. 4. National sponsors include the AFL-CIO, major international unions, national immigrant and civil rights groups, religious institutions, student and community organizations, prominent elected officials, and others.

“Immigrant workers, living and paying taxes in the U.S., want the rights to apply for citizenship, to reunify their families, and to have a voice on the job without regard to legal status, rights denied by their undocumented status and outdated laws.” So reads a statement from a web site associated with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE), a sponsor of the project.

Buses will be leaving from eight states, crisscrossing the U.S. and stopping at major cities: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami and Boston, to name just a few. At each stop the riders will hold rallies and urge communities to get involved. The buses will then converge on Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to change the laws. On Oct. 4 in New York City there will be a national rally and festival for amnesty, with music and food from all over the world. Organizers say they want tens of thousands of people to rally for a new immigration policy.

At a June 13 press conference at the New York City Central Labor Council (NYCLC), immigrant workers talked about their work experiences and difficulties.

Ching Hang Lee Chan of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) described the sweatshop conditions she worked under before she was able to join the union. She worked hard to bring her eldest son to the U.S., only to have the Immigration and Naturalization Service force him to return to Taiwan, leaving his wife and child behind.

Mohamad Barlas, a member of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), told of families left behind when the breadwinners were deported. The IAM has organized drivers who work for large limousine service companies, many of whom are immigrant workers.

Prof. Edward Culvert of the City University New York spoke eloquently of his experience in the civil rights movement. He said that without broad unity, civil rights – which are human rights – could not have been achieved. The achievement of immigrant rights will require no less, he suggested.

Joel Magallon of Asociación Tepeyac de Nueva York said there are some 11 million undocumented workers in America who need legislative protection.

NYCLC President Brian McLaughlin spoke at the press conference and urged all trade unionists to give their support to the Freedom Ride and its objectives.

For more information on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, please visit www.iwfr.org

The author can be reached at gfalsetta@pww.org