Skip to comments.Immigrants Travel to Washington to Rally for Broadened Rights
Posted on 09/27/2003 12:21:34 PM PDT by sarcasm
L PASO, Sept. 26 As the bus sped through the New Mexico desert and into West Texas, Federico González talked of his dream, an odd dream for an immigrant from Colombia. He wants to be an F.B.I. agent.
Back home, he was studying to be a police investigator, but he dropped out of college because he was too poor to pay all the expenses.
Eager to support his girlfriend and infant son, he moved to Arizona and took a job as a roofer, attracted to the relatively high pay by immigrant standards $9.50 an hour. But the work was grueling, 10-hour days in 100-degree heat. And he soon learned that there could be a price for protesting harsh conditions.
"They tell me this is the country of freedom," said Mr. González, a passenger in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a caravan of buses heading to Washington from 10 cities nationwide to campaign for immigrants' rights. "You're supposed to have the right to speak. But immigrants don't have the right to speak out on the job because they get fired."
Sitting alongside immigrants from Mexico, China, Sudan, the Philippines and elsewhere, Mr. González, 26, helps keep everyone's spirits from flagging, banging out Latin rhythms on a drum and bantering nonstop about soccer, salsa and discrimination against immigrants.
"I can't wait until we get to Washington," he said. "I'm going to be screaming loud. I just want to make sure they listen to us."
The trip, by 900 riders on 18 buses, was inspired by the 1961 freedom rides that sought to integrate bus terminals in the South. Today's riders are pushing for legalizing the status of illegal immigrants, more visas for family reunification and stepped-up protections for immigrant workers. Mr. González's bus originated in Los Angeles, and he boarded in Tucson after a rally at the Roman Catholic Cathedral that attracted 700 supporters.
"Immigrants do a lot of jobs that nobody else wants to do," he said. "They come here for one reason, to work. They make this place go. They help build America."
As a roofer, he worked such long hours that he did not have the energy to attend night school to study law enforcement. When he pushed to form a labor union to improve wages and conditions, he said, his employer dismissed him, suddenly telling him that his papers were not valid, even though it had long accepted his papers.
Mr. González, who has not seen his son since leaving Colombia five years ago, now drives an ice cream truck. "I always heard about the American dream, and I'm still looking for it," he said.
He gestured to another passenger, Dhel Galwak Jourchol, a native of Sudan who immigrated to the United States to escape his country's civil war. "We have a lot in common," Mr. González said. "We both came to America alone, with no friends."
Mr. Jourchol first fled Sudan for India, where he obtained a law degree, and later the United States granted him refugee status. "Since my childhood, I never have seen peace at all," he said. "The war started in 1983, and we run from the bush to other places. I don't know where a lot of my family is. I don't know if my parents are alive."
Although he is protesting immigration policy, Mr. Jourchol, 32, is a passionate cheerleader for America.
"I love the freedom here," he said. "I want to take the system here, and someday establish it in my country. We really appreciate what America has done for us, and we will pay you back someday."
But Mr. Jourchol grumbled about discrimination against immigrants. He applied to work as a corrections officer, but was rejected because he is not an American citizen. "I told them I'm qualified," he said. "I'm a law school graduate."
He wants one immigration reform above all, an increase in family reunification visas so that his Sudanese nephews and nieces can join him in America.
"My people are suffering, and I want to bring my relatives here," he said.
Guillermo Roacho, a diesel mechanic in Los Angeles, also complained about discrimination, saying employers exploited his fellow Mexican immigrants because many did not have legal status and faced deportation if they protested to their bosses about anything.
"The Mexicans don't have nothing," Mr. Roacho said. "Without legalization, they have no rights."
He said he was so eager to join the bus ride that he told his boss he was going whether or not he was given time off.
"I'm a good diesel mechanic, so I can always find another job," he said. "The white mechanics earn more than we do even though the Latino mechanics know more and work much harder."
Maggie Larson, a rider who immigrated from Malaysia, said she was blessed that she had never faced job discrimination. A housekeeper at the Royal Kona Resort in Hawaii, she said: "I work with people from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia. We're very close. We take care of each other. I don't feel discrimination."
Ms. Larson, 41, who flew from Hawaii to Los Angeles to join the ride, said she wanted greater rights for all immigrants so they could share the happiness she enjoyed. She said she hesitated to join the cross-country caravan because it meant being away from her 6-year-old.
"Leaving my son for three weeks is a sacrifice, but other immigrants have not seen their families for 10 or 15 years," she said. "That's unbearable. I am blessed that I am in this country, and I wanted to give all my support to other immigrants."
Few work harder than Grey Pichinte, a 23-year-old rider who immigrated from El Salvador. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, Ms. Pichinte studies computer science at Rio Hondo College outside Los Angeles, and then from 5 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. she works as a janitor. She sleeps four hours each night, she said.
"Immigrants work more than anyone in this country," she said. "They work 16, 18 hours a day."
Tears filled her eyes as she described the riders' visit to Nogales, Ariz., where immigrants told of people who died in the desert seeking to enter the United States. Her parents crossed the desert to escape the violence and poverty in El Salvador, she said, eventually saving enough money to fly her to the United States.
"Immigrants deserve everything because of what they went through," she said. "They crossed the desert. They've made so many sacrifices to seek a better future. There are dumb people who don't see that."
Shirley Smith, a union organizer, is one of the few nonimmigrants on the bus. But she, too, has seen plenty of struggle. She was a high school senior in 1959 when whites in a Dallas suburb sought to prevent her and other blacks from attending a local school.
"They'd throw rocks at us, firecrackers, too," Ms. Smith said.
Ultimately, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. flew to Texas to join that integration struggle. Today's ride, she said, is part of the same fight, trying to help those at the bottom. At each stop, Ms. Smith leads a booming rendition of "We Shall Overcome."
"Before this trip, I didn't realize that the Hispanic people were treated so bad," she said. "All they want is to live like other people. We're still fighting for people's rights. That's what Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez died for."
Get bent, Mr. Roacho.
What a crock. And what a bunch of traitorous, treasonous vipers who are supporting and abetting this.
If they want the legal rights of an American...then legally become an American as millions before them have. Illegals demanding this should simply be gathered up and sent back to where they came from. Our borders should be made secure from such blatant and flagrant violations of our law. It is a slap in the face to every American, especially the true immigrants who worked hard to come here and legally become a citizen.
Our politicians better get a handle on who their real special interests are before the legal Americans (both natives and immigrants) boil over regarding this issue.
...and if it goes that far, it will not be pretty, for either the illegals or the people abetting this invasion of our nation and destruction of our Republic.
Cesar Chavez despised illegals.
And you too clinton!...oh wait...he already is.
It's been happening in Texas and California for decades. The 'frog in boiling water' analogy.
Finally the rest of the nation is picking up on this but it's too late. Our screams here in Texas should have been listened to earlier.
It's too late to save this froggies life. This country will be like Brazil by 2050.
Legal immigration is a great thing and legal immigrants are welcome. What's happening with the illegals is that they are destroying the chances and dreams of thousands who are willing to obey the law and do it the right way. Totally unfair.
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