May Day rally supports migrant workers - Catholic Courier

May Day rally supports migrant workers

ROCHESTER — More than 70 people, many of them students from two local universities, came out to support the region’s migrant workers as part of May Day demonstrations that were held throughout the country.

Supporters here gathered at the Liberty Pole downtown on May 1 — International Workers Day — and demanded that President Barack Obama live up to campaign promises to pass immigration-reform legislation and end the workplace raids and deportations that have plagued the migrant community for years.

“We can make it happen if we unite around a common goal: swift, practical legislation now, as a first step, and eliminating the backlog for people whose immigration cases are pending,” noted Roberto Resto, who organized the rally and march from the Liberty Pole on East Main Street to the Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building on State Street. “Bring people out of the shadows, resolve their status, reunite families.”

Peter Mares, a community-outreach worker for Catholic Charities of Wayne County, said that the president needs to heed the same advice many parents give their children.

“You make a promise, you keep a promise,” Mares, who dressed in a sombrero, said to shouts of “Long live Obama.”

On the way to the Federal Building, marchers made a brief stop in front of the former Crown Plaza Hotel on State Street to demonstrate solidarity with the workers there. Several speakers at the rally said that management of the hotel, now known as the Rochester Plaza Hotel, is blocking unionization efforts among workers, who are largely immigrants. But the hotel’s general manager, Paul Kremp, has insisted that workers are free to decide whether to unionize and that unionization efforts are not being stopped.

The students who marched also linked arms to form a human chain when Rochester police officers stopped them to question them about allegations of damage at a building along the march route. Resto, also a member of Rochester Alliance for Immigrant Rights, said that he would be the only person arrested as the person who organized the demonstration. Police let the marchers go on without further incident.

Jake Spezio, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, said that it is important for members of society to stand up to injustice, such as the economic crisis created by corporations now benefitting from stimulus funds. His speech was punctuated by whoops from fellow students who also pounded on handheld drums.

“Another world is possible if we stand up and resist together,” he remarked.

Resto said that immigrant activists remain concerned that President Obama will be unable to get legislation passed in his first year. During the president’s press conference April 29, he said that he will try to get the legislative process moving in his first year.

Statewide, a resolution in support of farmworkers and recognizing their need for fair labor practices was introduced April 29 by Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem, according to a campaign led by Rural & Migrant Ministry. Those also in favor of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Rights Act bill are being urged to attend a May 12 rally in support of the measure, according to www.justiceforfarmworkers.org.

Elaine Johnson, a member of the Raging Grannies, said that she realizes whatever immigration legislation that eventually passes will require great compromise, but “just being able to develop a program that treats workers with respect will be a wonderful thing.”

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