ROCHESTER — More than 120 years after workers staged strikes and rallies while fighting for the right to an eight-hour work day, May Day has become a renewed time of action as activists struggle for justice for immigrants, organizers of a May 1 rally said.
About 50 people gathered at the Liberty Pole to support residency, labor rights and civil rights for migrant workers in the United States as well as call for immigration reforms and a moratorium on raids and deportations of undocumented workers. Several people spoke out and held up signs stating their opposition to the increased border enforcement that seemed to escalate when anti-immigrant congressional bills died in 2006 after millions of people marched against them, said Brian Erway, a member of the Rochester Alliance for Immigrants Rights.
The current Security through Regularized Immigration and Vibrant Economy Act — known as STRIVE — also would be detrimental to immigrant families, Rochester Alliance member Roberto Resto said at the impromptu stage set up at the Liberty Pole. Such families would face a daily fear of being detained and separated because of the act’s focus on enforcement, he noted.
“If that (bill) becomes legal, immigrants are going to be chased down for years to come,” he said.
When Alina D√≠az of Colombia, a paralegal and outreach worker with Farmworker Legal Services of New York, began to speak, she asked Librada Paz of Mexico, interim director of the Western New York office of Rural & Migrant Ministry, to stand with her.
D√≠az said that although the two women hail from different countries, they endured the dangerous hardships of crossing the border and coming to a strange land because of their common dream to make better lives for themselves and their families.
“We managed to raise children and complete college and become productive citizens,” D√≠az said. “We are not criminals. We are human beings. It’s why we need to say no more … to the persecution (of) immigrants.”
Rally cosponsors included Catholic Family Center, the Diocese of Rochester’s Migrant Ministry office in Wayne County and St. Michael Church. A local group called the Raging Grannies (Abuelas Enojadas) sang a song during the rally called “Doo-Dah Immigrants,” which was set to the tune of “Camptown Races.” Dressed in shawls, they sang: “We’re a nation built by immigrants, my folks and yours too. … It’s time for things to change.”
According to news reports, marches also were held that day in such larger cities as Chicago and Los Angeles and were attended by thousands of people trying to draw more attention to the need to make more avenues to citizenship available to the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. Those protesters also demanded an end to raids and deportations. The protests were smaller than the ones in 2006 that drew increased attention to the immigrants’ plights.
“We need to bring that pressure to bear day in and day out,” Erway said.
To that end, Rural & Migrant Ministry is in the midst of planning one of its annual Farmworker Advocacy Days as part of its Justice for Farmworkers campaign, said Jordan Wells, campaign coordinator.
This year, the statewide interfaith organization will host fair-labor advocates for a major mobilization on May 20 on the east capitol steps in Albany, he said. The day’s events will include a press conference, march and rally as well as visits with state legislators about the need for better working conditions for all farmworkers in New York, regardless of issues about legal status, Wells added.
“The labor law itself is blind to immigrant status,” he noted. “This effort is as much for U.S. residents as it is for immigrants.”
The event will include the participation of John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO union, Wells said.
Groups from Rochester plan to participate in the May 20 event, including el Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agr√≠colas, he said. Historically, the Rochester region has been one of the strongest bastions of support for labor rights with leadership from the Catholic and Episcopalian dioceses of Rochester, he added.
With Sen. Joseph Robach of Greece serving as head of the state’s labor committee, farmworker advocates are even more hopeful that the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act will finally become law, Wells said. Robach, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, could not be reached for comment.
According to information on the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition Web site, www.labor-religion.org/farmw_memo_support.htm, farmworkers currently don’t receive the same rights as other workers — including the rights to collective bargaining, overtime, an eight-hour work day and a day of rest.
“Through our work this year and some increased support and belligerence from our (immigration) allies, I feel we’re close to getting changes passed for farmworkers in Albany,” Wells said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the May 20 march and rally, e-mail Jordan Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org or CITA’s Ami Kadar at email@example.com.