More than 2,000 immigrants and supporters rallied in Chicago Sept. 25 to call for maximum voter participation in November. In Portland, Ore., hundreds of high school and college students joined farm workers, including United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, chanting, “Support the Dream Act” outside the offices of Republican Sen. Gordon Smith Sept. 23 to demand that he push for enactment of that immigration reform bill and the AgJobs bill.

The Chicago and Portland demonstrations marked the first anniversary of the Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride and were part of a “National Week of Action for Immigration Reform,” which included 180 marches and rallies in 31 states mobilized by the New American Opportunity Campaign (NAOC) to demand that Congress approve and President Bush sign the two bills before Election Day.

In Chicago, Rep. Luis Gutierrez addressed the group, which also received messages from Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Rahm Emanuel. All are Democrats. Several members of the Chicago City Council were also present and spoke at a feeder rally at Union Park.

Gutierrez castigated the Bush administration for promising action and then “doing nothing for immigrant workers.” He noted that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has committed to the outlines of a legalization program for the undocumented and urged the participants to put a maximum effort into registering voters and turning out the vote.

Cynthia Rodriguez, a representative of SEIU Local 73, denounced the Republicans for having stalled on the AgJobs bill, which would provide legal status for millions of undocumented farm workers. She said that 85 percent of the food we eat in the United States is produced by undocumented farm labor and the bill would improve conditions for 500,000 workers, yet there has been little progress in getting the bill passed.

“Every year, she said, “more than 300 workers die while being smuggled into this country from Mexico.”

On the West Coast, Dolores Huerta of the UFW flew to Oregon to speak to the youthful protesters and to campaign for John Kerry in this battleground state.

“It’s really great to see so many young people marching,” she told the World. “We have to take this energy and make sure all the youth are registered to vote and actually get to the polls Nov. 2. This is a critical election and the outcome will affect their future. … The bottom line is voter turnout.”

Kaysa Jama, a Somalian immigrant and director of the Community Language and Culture Bank, told the crowd that undocumented immigrant workers pay billions each year in federal and local taxes yet receive no benefits. “We are all immigrants and we must stay together in this fight to turn the dream into reality.”

Jose Sandoval, a graduate student at Western Oregon University, said the United We Dream campaign had mobilized more than 100,000 young people during the week of Sept. 21-26 to demand immediate passage of the Dream Act. The law would make it possible for the children of undocumented immigrant workers to enroll in college.

“Every year 55,000 students whose parents are undocumented are denied the chance to go to college,” Patti Larios, a student at North Salem High School, told the crowd. “Over a decade it adds up to more than half a million who could have done something with their lives but were denied the chance.”

Farm worker Carmen Ramirez, a member of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), was pushing a stroller carrying her grandchild, Antonio. “I’m originally from Texas and I’ve been marching for 30 years to win justice and for our kids to get educated, to get better jobs,” she told the World. “I think all of us should be free and equal.”

Referring to President Bush, she said, “We’ve been waiting for the AgJobs bill to pass. His administration has done nothing for us and everything for the growers. I think farm workers are going to vote for Kerry. They want a change.”

Chicago speakers included Elvira Arellano, a Mexican immigrant who was arrested in an anti-terrorist sweep last year while cleaning airplanes at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Like many immigrants threatened with deportation, she has a son who was born in the U.S. and, therefore, is a U.S. citizen. If they expel her son with her, they will be expelling an American citizen. Yet if they expel her but not the boy, they will be breaking up a family.

Pointing to her 7-year-old son, Arellano asked the Chicago protesters, “He is too young to vote. Who here will vote for him?” They shouted back, “We will, we will.”

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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