WASHINGTON – Immigrant workers taking part in a freedom ride arrived in here this week to urge members of Congress to change immigration laws.
“We need to make sure that people who are building America are treated right,” said Sen. Jon Corzine,D-N.J.,at breakfast meeting Thursday with some of the immigrant Freedom Riders and their supporters. “We need to make sure that laws make sense on immigration.”
Twenty buses on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride received a cheerful welcome Wednesday at noon when they met for the first time after the beginning of the ride on Sept. 20. Each bus started in a different city.
The immigrants — some citizens,some with visas and some without documentation — came to the United States from various parts of the world and live and work all over the country. Buses picked people up as they visited more than 100 cities since the freedom ride began.
Riders can now shout their motto,“Yes,we can,” in 15 different languages.
“It was so emotional,” said Linda Chavez-Thomson,vice-president of the AFL–CIO,one of the main supporters of the Freedom Ride. “I spent the whole afternoon crying.”
Legal and illegal immigrants are demanding to be treated like other workers because immigrants built the United States,they argued.
Yabesh Onsongo,44,who came to United States two years ago as a visitor and decided to stay,works as a nurse-aide in Massachusetts,because his nursing license from Kenya is not valid in the United States. He favors reform.
“Those who are against it are grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants,” he said. “Democracy,to my understanding,is where everybody is treated equally.”
Chavez-Thomson said all immigrants are entitled to civil rights and work benefits regardless of their status because “God didn't make illegal human beings.”
The freedom riders want new policies to make it easier for immigrants to bring their families to the United States.
Hesbon Simba,40,came to the United States to study information technology six years ago and is in graduate school in Massachusetts. He left his family in his home country,Kenya. He works as an organizer and plans to remain here.
“I have a family outside. I want the reunification process to be easier,” Simba said while he attended the welcoming party. “We want justice,respect and unity.”
Geoconda Kline,48,came to the United States from Nicaragua in 1979 to seek political asylum. She now runs a group that helps immigrants in Las Vegas.
“It's a cruel process. They separate families,” she said. “This country believes in unity.”
The freedom riders are also trying to get the policy on education loans changed.
Immigrants' children often cannot go to college because their legal status doesn't allow them to get loans,and their family’s income is not high enough to pay for a college education,they said.
Immigrants and their supporters said the fight for freedom and civil rights has just begun.
“Bush,listen,the people started fighting,” the immigrants shouted in Spanish at the rally at a park near the hotel in Southwest Washington where the group stayed.
Congressional representatives said they were touched by the stories immigrants shared and said they are going to work hard on the immigration law changes.
“Have every congressmen live and work for a week with an undocumented,” Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg,D-N.J.,suggested. He said they would see how hard most immigrants work.
Rep. Donald Payne,D-N.J,said,“Immigration is good for this country. In fact,illegal immigration is good for this country.”
One sign carried by an immigrant read in Spanish: “We're here and we're not going away.”
The Freedom Ride is scheduled to end Saturday in New York.