The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a local and national perspective

Drawing inspiration from the Freedom Rides of the sixties, over 900 immigrants and allies, 45 of whom are Oregonians, rode to Washington D.C. demanding immigrant workers freedom.

The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride (IWFR) left from ten major cities September 23rd and arrived in D.C. October 1st. Once there, the riders delivered their list of five demands to congress.

From D.C. the riders traveled up to New York City for the IWFR rally on Oct. 4th, which filled Flushing Meadows in Queens with over 100,000 immigrants and allies.

A press release from the Oregon riders explains, “these riders will represent Oregon as advocates for justice and will call on Congress to change current and out-dated immigration laws.” Demands of the riders include the granting of legal status to working immigrants who have already settled in the U.S, and the need to reestablish labor protections for all workers, including immigrants.

Farm workers, most of whom are immigrants in Oregon, make as low as eleven cents a pound picking produce.

Caroline Fan, a rider on the Portland bus has kept a journal on the organization’s Web site, Sitting next to her on the bus was Oscar, a farm worker. Describing his working condition, Fan says “he works in the fields and his … employers sometimes don’t give them water, even though he is out in the sun for eight-nine hours a day. Sometimes they don’t let them use the restroom, so they go in the fields.” Fan concludes with the statement that “these are basic human rights” that are denied from immigrant workers.

The part-time professors’ union at PSU, the PSU Faculty Association (PSUFA) and local 3571 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has shown support for the ride both physically and financially. Although no member of the PSUFA accompanied the riders, some attended the Portland kick off event at Pioneer Courthouse Square Sept. 21.

PSUFA member Michael Connor was in attendance at the kick off. “It was a couple of hours long with speeches, singing, blessings, and introductions of the local folks (who would travel to D.C.) When an anti-war march came by”, Connor said, “Ramon Ramirez, president of the N.W. Tree Planters and Farm Workers United (PCUN) spoke about the rights of immigrants and racist repression, a result of the war on terror.”

Connor added that “the war on terror has targeted (non-citizen) students for special registration” with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Some graduate students, who are also part-time teachers and members of the AFT, have been forced into special registration with the INS.

“Part-time faculty who are immigrants must deal with the fear of being deported over their papers [immigration documents],” Connor stated. With this “fear instilled, immigrant teachers are less able to teach or organize” in their class or union, Conner concludes.

Donna Lamb posted a report to about the IWFR rally in New York City. In the report, Maria Elena Durazo, the national chairperson for the event and the daughter of Mexican immigrants spoke.

“We are ready to come out of the shadows, we are ready to say we are no longer afraid,” Durazo proclaimed.

The press release from the Oregon rides says, “Our goal is beyond Oct. 4. We are preparing the political climate that will reshape the national policies that divide workers in the US.”