Freedom Riders Fight for Rights of Immigrants

October 14, 2003

On October 4, several hundred thousand people rallied in New York City in support of immigrant rights. This massive action was the culmination of a two-week long Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride which galvanized people in more than 100 cities across the country.

The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride was initiated by the AFL-CIO and spearheaded by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union. The Freedom Ride began with thousands of immigrants boarding buses in 10 major cities - San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Miami, Boston, Chicago, Houston and Las Vegas. The Freedom riders traveled more than 20,000 miles, stopping in 100 cities in 46 states to rally support for: 1) legal status and citizenship for 9 million undocumented immigrants; 2) ironclad protections for the union rights and civil rights for all immigrants;

3) an end to the government's persecution and attacks on immigrants which have escalated dramatically since the start of the so-called "war on terrorism;" and 4) increases in granting of immigrant visas to facilitate family reunification.

In every city they visited, the freedom riders were met with large rallies and other actions organized by local unions, churches, community organizations, immigrant-rights groups and others. At the same time, the freedom riders joined in local struggles. For example, in Chicago, the freedom riders and hundreds of local supporters joined in picketing the Congress Hotel where workers, mainly immigrants, have been on strike for eight weeks, after the hotel refused to accept the terms of a city-wide contract covering most union hotels in Chicago. In Omaha, Nebraska and Tar Heel, North Carolina, the freedom riders came out in support of unionization drives amongst meatpacking workers.

There are 30 million immigrants in the country and they make up 12.4% of the workforce but are generally stuck in the lowest paying jobs and face persecution and discrimination in all spheres of life. Forty-three percent (43%) of immigrant workers are paid less than $7.50 an hour and many undocumented workers are paid less than the legal minimum wage. Immigrant workers are routinely persecuted, fired and even deported for exercising such elementary rights as the right to unionize.

In the last 2 years, the government, at all levels, as stepped up its persecution of immigrants as part of its so-called "war on terrorism." At least 13,000 immigrants have been deported for trivial visa violations. Thousands have been imprisoned (and many denied legal due process), beaten and harassed. Islamic charity organizations have been suppressed and their assets expropriated by the government. The police and FBI have raided mosques and imposed a real reign of terror in Arab communities.

Defending the rights of immigrants is part and parcel of defending the rights of all human beings.

By superexploiting immigrants and forcing them into a subcaste, the capitalists undermine the economic rights of the whole working class, forcing down the wages of all and undermining the collective struggles.

Likewise the political persecution of immigrants is an attack on the democratic liberties of all and in particular an attempt to silence the voice of people who are speaking out against the aggressive wars being launched by the U.S. government.

Thus the workers and people cannot rise to challenges they face without uniting themselves and resolutely standing in defense of the rights of immigrants.