Freedom riders gather to speak about immigrant issues



Immigrants from around the globe stopped at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven on Monday as they continued on the ride of their lives from Boston to Washington, D.C., in pursuit of “The American Dream.”

The Boston group is part of a nationwide effort called the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, or IWFR, an event that involves more than 800 immigrants boarding 18 buses in 10 cities and making their way to the nation’s capital, rallying for immigrant rights along the way.

On the bus were people like Gerthy Lahens, an immigrant from Haiti who had difficulty sending her daughter to college in America, and who said she has seen much oppression of immigrants in this country.

“It’s important for us to free ourselves from slavery — we’re still slaves of the system,” Lahens said. “If my sister is living in fear, so am I.”

The “freedom riders” from across the nation will meet with members of Congress on Thursday, and the event will culminate with an Oct. 4 rally in New York, which is expected to draw more than 150,000 people.

The riders said they hope to gain legalization and a clear path to citizenship for undocumented workers, restoration of rights and protections on the job, reunification of families, and respect for civil rights and civil liberties.

Muradieu Joseph, who came to America from Haiti with an education in social work, said he has experienced firsthand the denial of legal status.

“I left everything I had in Haiti to start over here,” Joseph said. “I went three years without a green card, and I had to work in low paying jobs despite my education.”

According to the IWFR Web site, in the last decade nearly half of the workers entering the workforce have been immigrants, and immigrants comprise one out of four low-wage workers.

At the New Haven church, riders were addressed by Ana Miriam Vaquerano, an immigrant from El Salvador who was homeless when she arrived in America.

“People come to me crying because they don’t have documents and they are hired and then fired after three weeks,” Vaquerano said. “People have said to me, ‘My mother died in my country, and I can’t go. My son is sick in my country, and I can’t go.’”

The riders were greeted by Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who urged the freedom riders to make history by standing up for what they believe in.

“New Haven has 9,000 immigrants –13 percent of the population,” DeStefano said. “The large immigrant population tends to come from countries that by current law don’t allow them to be legal citizens, but they are an integral part of our economy, and part of what makes us strong.”

Yale students were also involved in IWFR. Josh Eidelson ’06, Saqib Bhatti ’04, Julie Gonzales ’05 and several other students are organizing four buses to take Yale students to the rally Saturday in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. They are raising awareness about IWFR and selling tickets around campus.

“Yale students could have grown up in a nonimmigrant community,” Gonzales said. “But hey, now you live in a community that has immigrant workers and students in it, and they are regular people. We are trying to get the word out as many different ways as we can.”

Immigrants like Vaquerano said they will try their best to promote freedom democracy, and that they need to see a change.

“Everyday I cry, my heart cries,” Vaquerano said. “God made us all equal — we are all brothers and sisters. I look on our bus, and all of us are different colors, but when I look at us, how beautiful we are. That’s what God created.”

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