LOS ANGELES – In Los Angeles and 30 other cities, a broad national coalition of labor, community and religious organizations announced on May 15 an unprecedented grassroots campaign to urge President Bush and Congress to pass legislation that would make it possible for undocumented workers to achieve “legal status.”

The “Million Voices for Legalization” campaign aims to collect one million postcards in workplaces, churches, community gatherings, union halls and neighborhoods across the nation. The postcards, which call for “rewarding work and fixing our immigration laws,” will be delivered to Washington, D.C., before the November elections.

Leaders called this effort “a pressing issue for millions of American voters.” Their goal is to demonstrate through the grassroots campaign that, even after Sept. 11, there is broad support for giving undocumented immigrants the opportunity to remain in this nation.

“It is time for politicians to do more than talk the talk. It’s time to walk the walk,” said Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, at the Los Angeles press conference held at the headquarters of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“Let us be clear. Immigrants are good for America, for our economy, for our communities. They work hard, pay taxes and contribute to our country. That deserves reward,” Rodriguez said.

Los Angeles Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Miguel Contreras pledged that this “vital campaign could count on the labor movement’s full support, with local unions participating throughout the nation from New York to Los Angeles.”

Maria Elena Durazo, president of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 11 and a HERE international vice president, vowed that her union would collect cards at hotels, restaurants, sports arenas and food service facilities across the United States.

“From Minneapolis to New York and from San Francisco to Miami, our members will make sure that our message is loud and clear to President Bush and the Congress,” she stated.

That sentiment was echoed by leaders at a Washington, D.C., press conference including Eliseo Medina, Executive International Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who is spearheading this campaign. SEIU, the largest union in the nation, has made this effort a priority in its legislative and electoral agenda.

Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, told the media that political parties that are trying to get the Latino vote must take concrete action to resolve issues of concern to the Latino community.

“It’s fine that politicians are learning Spanish and are organizing programs in Spanish, but we want to send a strong message that we want immigrant reform!”

Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) emphasized that undocumented workers who come to the United States to improve their lives do not deserve to be treated as criminals. She pointed out that many industries, like agriculture and service, are dependent on the labor of immigrants. “We cannot turn our backs on those who labor hard for our nation’s benefit,” she said.

Monsignor David O’Connell, who represented the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese at the Los Angeles press conference, reported that hundreds of faith-based organizations have committed to work in their neighborhoods.

Rabbi Marc Dworkin, from the Leo Baeck Temple, and leader of the Los Angeles Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a coalition of churches and faith-based organizations, said that he would be working to win wider support for this effort in the Jewish community.

“As a Jew, I don’t have to go back very far to feel like an immigrant in this country,” Dworkin said. “Legalization laws are necessary. We need to embrace the stranger, not rebuff him.”

A recent study by the University of California in Los Angeles concluded that immigrants contribute more than $440 billion dollars to our economy and undocumented immigrants fill scores of vital jobs that would otherwise go vacant.

The postcard campaign was also launched in Miami, Houston, San Antonio, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Portland, St. Louis, Seattle, San Jose and other major cities.

In addition to English, the postcard is printed in different languages, including Tagalog, Chinese, Spanish and Polish, reflecting the numerous immigrant community groups that the coalition has unified in this effort.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com

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