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Immigrants Build Momentum for Upcoming Freedom Rides

Over 1,500 immigrants and allies rally for immigration reform

Chicago, August 9, 2003­ Immigrant workers and their allies rallied today in preparation for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride in late September. It was standing room only at the Merle Reskin Theater as riders and their supporters spoke of the historic rides as the new civil rights movement. 1,500 people then marched to the Congress Hotel to join the picket line in support of striking HERE Local 1 members.

Denise Dixon, from ACORN, said, "I may not be an immigrant myself, but I know what it is like to be working a low wage job, and to stick it out day after day, for the good of my kids. I work for immigrant rights because I understand that as long as any worker can be harassed, intimidated, or deported, then employers will use that power to keep all workers down. I'm fighting for immigrant rights because divided we fall, only united and strong can we stand."

The Freedom Ride (www.iwfr.org) calls for sweeping immigration reform, including a new legalization, family reunification, the right of immigrants to form unions, and civil rights and liberties for all American residents. Several groups gathered to build momentum for the Freedom Rides around local immigrant struggles.

Kareem Irfan, president of the Council of Islamic Organizations, explained how diverse groups of immigrants were facing similar struggles. "The attacks on immigrants in the wake of September 11 have fallen disproportionately and unfairly on two groups ­ on Arabs and Muslims, and on undocumented Mexicans. Our government is tearing apart 13,000 families of hard-working Muslim brothers and sisters and scapegoating countless undocumented Mexicans in the name of national security. We support the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride because faith organizations must join and lift our voices together to demand for justice and legalization!" said Irfan.

In Illinois, immigrants have been fighting for the right to have driver's licenses, student access to higher education, respect for day laborer's rights, an end to the deportations of Arabs, Muslims, and undocumented immigrants, and an end to the social security no-match letters that are used to intimidate hard-working people. Several speakers spoke about key issues specific to Illinois immigrants.

Yesenia, a student representing the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said, "I am undocumented. But I am also a hardworking student, a volunteer, a daughter, a parishioner of my church, and now, I am a Freedom Rider. Most importantly though, I am an American. That is why I have decided to ride on the bus, go to my congressman in Washington DC, and tell them to support the DREAM Act, so that other young people like me will have the opportunity to reach their highest potential."

Gabriela, from the Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations spoke about the driver's licenses issue. "This proposal will make Illinois roads safer as drivers who could not get a license would be able to get proper driver training and supervision," said Gabriela. "Enabling more drivers to get licenses would also allow these drivers to comply with state insurance laws, and provide a way for law enforcement agencies to track more drivers who are repeat offenders."

Emma Lozano, executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras defended day laborers across Chicago saying, "These workers are stuck at the bottom rung of the economy, many times doing work for temp agencies that abuse individuals who don't know their rights. The Freedom Rides will let everyone know that workers' dignity is not for sale."

The strikers, who hail from El Salvador, Guatemala, Ghana, India, Iran, Mexico as well as the USA, were encouraged by theralliers and by the movement created by the Freedom Rides. "For 25 years I worked should-to-shoulder with people born all over the world, and now I'm picketing shoulder-to-shoulder with them. In a strike you find out who are your friends and who is the enemy. And let me tell you, the enemy is not my immigrants brothers and sisters; the enemy is the boss who would make us all slaves," said Henry Miller, a Congress Hotel striker.

Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement, Chicago will be one of ten major U.S. cities to participate in the rides, sending dozens of riders people concerned with immigrant and worker issues across the country late September 2003. The riders will converge on Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress and then travel to New York City for a mass rally of over 250,000 people to promote the rights of immigrants across the United States.

The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride-Illinois Coalition, is an alliance of 17 unions, immigrant rights advocacy groups, religious affiliations, and community organizations seeking the full participation and equal treatment of immigrant workers in our society. The coalition is responsible for organizing the buses departing from Chicago for the Freedom Ride on September 27, 2003.

Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride ­ Illinois Coalition ACORN o AFL-CIO o Archdiocese of Chicago o Centro Sin Fronteras o Chicago Coalition for the Homeless o Chicago Federation of Labor o Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues o HERE o Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights o Illinois Hunger Coalition o Jobs with Justice o Laborers Union o LCLAA o Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations o Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church o Saint Sylvester's Catholic Church o SEIU o UFCW o UNITE


For more information contact:
Marissa Graciosa, ICIRR, 773.259.6910
Lars Negstad, HERE Local 1, 312.446.1766


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