Union, religious and community leaders, joined by dozens of new immigrants, kicked off the Minnesota portion of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Tuesday on St. Paul's West Side, the first home for many new Americans over the decades.
"All of us are here because we believe immigration into this country has made it a better place to live," said Jaye Rykunyk, president of Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 17. "The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride is the road to citizenship and we're all committed to taking that ride together."
Modeled after the freedom rides of the 1950s and '60s civil rights movement, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride is a national mobilization for immigrant rights. Buses of riders from the Twin Cities and nine other cities across the country will converge in Washington, D.C., in early October, then proceed to New York City for a huge rally within sight of the Statue of Liberty.Riders and supporters gathered in front of a school bus at the kickoff ceremony.
The coalition supporting the ride is pushing for a new immigration policy that would include legalized status and a "road to citizenship" for all immigrant workers in the United States, the right of workers to re-unite their families and protection of immigrants' rights in the workplace.
"We are all immigrants," Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the national AFL-CIO, told the crowd gathered outside St. Paul's Neighborhood House, which has provided services to many waves of immigrants.
"The AFL-CIO stands firmly behind the issue of granting legalization to these workers . . . we should have a road to citizenship for all immigrant workers in this country," Chavez-Thompson said.
Mistreatment of immigrants "is nothing less than immoral," said the Rev. Ron Stief, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries. The UCC is holding its general synod in Minneapolis this week and voiced strong support for the rights of immigrants, he said.
A number of people who plan to participate in the ride also spoke at the kickoff ceremony. Standing in front of a yellow school bus decorated with freedom ride signs, they spoke of the difficulties facing new immigrants, including discrimination, loneliness and cultural adjustment. They also said many Americans do not understand the economic contributions made by immigrants, including performing difficult and unpleasant jobs such as meatpacking that no one else will do and paying taxes.
"This freedom ride represents unity," said Lu Samaniego, a Filipino immigrant and member of HERE Local 21 in Rochester.
"The biggest shame of our country is that many folks have forgotten who they are," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, whose district includes the Neighborhood House. "They have forgotten they were in fact immigrants. . . and they dishonor their ancestors."
National AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson pledged the labor movement's strong support for immigrant worker rights.
For more information
Visit the Freedom Ride website, www.iwfr.org