More than 200 day laborers and advocates from across the United States converged on Capitol Hill Thursday to call for a moratorium on immigration raids. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network or NDLON sponsored the protest and a four-day convention. The group says raids against day laborers and illegal immigrants have increased because lawmakers cannot agree on a comprehensive immigration reform bill. They say the system is broken and it is creating hardship for day laborers and their families. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
They came to Capitol Hill so that lawmakers could hear their voices. Many are illegal immigrants who say they take jobs Americans do not want.
Pablo Alvarado is NDLON?s national director. He spoke to the crowd. "These are the hands that build America. These are the hands that are building this country."
Despite their contributions, Alvarado says day laborers across the country increasingly have become targets of abusive employers, vigilantes and overzealous law enforcement. He called for an end to immigration raids until lawmakers can fix what he calls the country's "broken immigration system." "If there's one person who knows how broken that immigration system is, that is the day laborer -- the man and the woman who stands in the street corner looking for work to feed their children. They know how broken that system is."
On any given day, NDLON says some 117,000 day laborers stand on street corners and parking lots looking for work. Although the demand for the cheap labor they provide is growing, many are caught in the crossfire of an emotional debate.
Kim Propeack heads an immigrant advocacy group called Casa de Maryland. "When Congress failed to resolve the broken immigration system, there was a real sense that we had to see greater enforcement."
Day laborer Luis Larin says people are scared. At a raid he says he witnessed in January, Larin says only Latinos were arrested, even though there were people of other nationalities who were also looking for work. "They took the Latinos exclusively, and then they picked up other people who were not looking for work, they were only waiting for a bus."
Samuel did not want his last name used. He says he lives in constant fear of deportation. "Many times I am treated poorly. Often, contractors don't want to pay us. Sometimes they say they will send immigration officers to our houses. Some have threatened to kill us."
Although they do not condone violence, some groups justify the use of harassment tactics to push an anti-illegal immigrant agenda. Members of a volunteer group known as the "Minutemen" take pictures of illegals and prospective employers and send them to federal authorities. Leaders of the group say Americans must take a strong stand against people who break the law.
But the National Day Laborer Organizing Network's Pablo Alvarado says the rally is not about breaking the law or illegal immigration. "It's about human rights. It's about civil rights. It's about protecting the fundamental values, the greatest patrimony of humanity. People just need to make a living and feed their kids. We're not trying to make any political statements here, we're just trying to address an issue that's really causing a lot of problems, and that is raids. They have to stop."
Alvarado says the day laborers' convention in Washington comes at a critical time because the prospects for real immigration reform in Congress appears dim.