Portland coalition kicks off immigrant rights campaign

Union, religious and community leaders, joined by some new immigrants, kicked off the Oregon portion of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Aug. 8 with a gathering at the Southeast Portland offices of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 9.

On Sept 23, buses filled with immigrant workers and allies will begin a historic journey from 10 cities around the country — including Portland — converging in Washington, D.C., in early October, then proceeding to New York City for a huge rally Oct. 4 within sight of the Statue of Liberty.

Caravans will initially depart from Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Boston, Chicago Las Vegas and Minneapolis.

Just as the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s exposed the brutality of legal segregation in the South, this year’s Freedom Ride intends to expose the injustice of current policies toward immigrants and create a powerful coalition of voices for change, the national AFL-CIO said.

The coalition supporting the ride is pushing for a new immigration policy that would include legalized status and a “road to citizenship” for all immigrant workers in the United States, the right of workers to re-unite their families and protection of immigrants’ rights in the workplace.

“Immigrant workers, living and paying taxes in the United States, deserve the rights to legalize their status, to have a clear road to citizenship, to reunify their families, to have a voice on the job without regard to legal status, and to enjoy full protection of their civil rights and civil liberties ... rights denied by their undocumented status and outdated laws,” said Jeff Richardson, financial secretary-treasurer of Portland-based Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 9 and chair of the Portland Freedom Ride Committee.

“The AFL-CIO stands firmly behind the issue of granting legalization to these workers ... We should have a road to citizenship for all immigrant workers in this country,” said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson.

Three years ago, the national AFL-CIO passed a resolution that asked the federal government to rescind sanctions against employers who hire undocumented immigrants. It also advocated amnesty for immigrants already here.

A number of people who plan to participate in the ride also spoke at the kickoff ceremony in Portland.

They spoke of the difficulties facing new immigrants, including discrimination and cultural adjustment. They also said many Americans do not understand the economic contributions made by immigrants, including performing difficult and unpleasant jobs that no one else will do, and paying taxes.

For more information about the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, contact the Portland Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Committee: Jeff Richardson, HERE Local 9 at 503-230-2304; Judy O’Connor, executive secretary of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, at 503-235-9444; or Samuel Davila, CAUSA, at 503-763-1694. Also visit the Web site at www.immigrantworkersfreedomride.com

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