More than 900 immigrant workers and supporters have arrived in Washington from a week-long Freedom Ride across the country. Their objective is to draw national attention to immigrants' rights and they will spend the next few days meeting with lawmakers to urge reform of immigration laws. The campaign is reminiscent of the civil rights caravans of the 1960s.
Eighteen buses filled with immigrant workers rolled into Washington from different parts of the country. The 900 so-called Immigrant Worker Freedom Riders traveled a combined 32,000 kilometers and visited 100 cities, towns, and farming villages.
Spokesman David Koff says the trip aimed at educating Americans about immigrants and immigrants' rights, especially those who oppose immigration reforms. "Here we have, over the last 10 days, the true face of the newest Americans wherever they may come from. It is very hard to demonize someone who sits down and talks with you and shares their experiences and you realize you have much more in common than you can possibly believe," he said.
Mr. Koff says the Freedom Riders have planned a massive lobbying effort aimed at Congress to urge an overhaul of immigration laws.
The 2002 census shows one in five Americans [more than 56 million] were born in another country or have at least one parent who was. Unofficial estimates of illegal immigrants range from eight to 10 million. After the September 2001 terrorist attacks, lawmakers tightened immigration rules and visa requirements for foreign visitors.
While some advocates are pushing for tighter restrictions, Mr. Koff says the immigrant workers will be urging Congress to distinguish between national security measures and immigrants' rights. "It is about building a movement for change. The changes that will be embodied in legislation would do a number of things. They would reward work by granting legal status to hardworking, tax-paying law-abiding immigrant workers already in the United States. They would renew our democracy by clearing the path to citizenship and full political participation for the newest Americans," he said.
He says immigration advocates are also urging better labor laws to protect immigrants and a more streamlined process for family re-unification.
The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride was sponsored by a number of national labor unions, faith-based groups, and immigrant, student and grassroots organizations. The Freedom Ride ends its journey October 4 in New York with a rally at the Statue of Liberty.