NEW YORK CITY – In the fall of 2003, busloads of people crossed the U.S. with the message that a broad coalition has emerged demanding rights and justice for immigrants. The culmination of the historic Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a rally of over one hundred thousand immigrants and their allies, took place here in Flushing Meadows Park, an appropriate place for such a gathering, since the city is home to millions of immigrant workers and the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

Over the winter and spring, the issues of the Freedom Ride – civil liberties, dignity and language rights, path to citizenship, family reunification, union rights and protections – have continued to top the agenda for many organizations and communities, including the labor movement here.

In December, the mainly immigrant workers at Grand Central Station’s famous Oyster Bar restaurant went on strike against a greedy employer, and finally won a contract with HERE Local 100.

The city’s daycare workers, many of whom are also immigrants, have been without a contract for almost four years, and have threatened a strike in June.

In March, hundreds of people, organized by NYC’s Central Labor Council’s immigration subcommittee, lobbied the state legislature on a range of issues: urging reversal of the policy of revoking drivers’ licenses of immigrant New Yorkers who cannot verify their Social Security numbers; language access and interpreters in hospitals and schools; and increasing funding for English as a Second a Language programs.

In May, hundreds of farm workers and their allies marched across the state demanding passage of legislation to improve the outrageous working and living conditions of the thousands who harvest New York’s crops. The state’s farm workers have no health care or workers compensation, no days off, and no overtime pay.

There is also key federal legislation that coalitions are working on. The DREAM Act, (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, S. 1545), introduced in July 2003, which has a counterpart in the House (Student Adjustment Act, HR 1684), is one such piece of legislation. The DREAM act would eliminate the federal provision that discourages states from providing in-state rates tuition rates without regard to immigration status; and permit some immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for legal status.

All of these issues are part of the election year debate and mobilization to defeat the ultra right. Voter registration and education are high on the immigrant rights movement’s agenda.

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