SALT LAKE CITY – The Latino community here rallied Feb. 2 for unionizing undocumented workers, reforming immigration laws to recognize the necessity of immigrant labor and granting federal amnesty to all workers who entered the United States, even illegally.

Robert Gallegos of Raza Political Action Committee said efforts are underway to mobilize the thousands of immigrant laborers working in Utah.

“We need to create unions in the semiskilled working industries such as restaurants, retail clerks, construction, manufacturers, hotels, food processing, landscaping and health care,” Gallegos told about 100 people gathered on the steps of the statehouse.

The demonstration was similar to one held last month at the City-County Building in the wake of the Dec. 11 crackdown at Salt Lake City International Airport on undocumented workers, many of whom allegedly used fake Social Security numbers to get their jobs. The Department of Justice indicted 69 of the workers who had access to “security identification display areas,” while another 201 who worked in nonsecure areas were fired.

Gallegos said of the 69 workers charged with federal crimes, 14 have had charges dismissed, 16 have pleaded guilty, 16 have outstanding warrants and 23 have entered not guilty pleas and are awaiting trial. All face deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for not having proper immigrant status to enter and work in the United States, although some plan to appeal their deportation order.

While Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson originally commended federal and state officers for “Operation Safe Travel,” he now has become one of its biggest critics. Gallegos told demonstrators that Anderson will help lead the charge to change immigration laws.

“Mayor Anderson is going to document and interview workers who were arrested. He’s going to talk to company people who employ people and he’s going to establish the need for immigration workers to work in Utah and the United States,” Gallegos said.

Anderson’s press secretary said Saturday the mayor plans to create a videotape featuring the arrested airport workers to show the human side of federal immigration laws.

“He wants people to hear their stories and get people to feel their pain,” said Josh Ewing. “The mayor understands the only way to make a real difference is to push for some national policy change.”

Speakers at the demonstration accused the federal government of discrimination, civil rights violations and failing to recognize the economic contribution of undocumented workers.

“We need unity, we need changes in the laws so that the laws fit the economic reality of the state, and we need to change the stereotypes of Latinos living here,” said Mark Alvarez, an attorney who is defending some of the indicted airport workers. “We’re not asking for any favors, we are asking for economic justice and social justice.”


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