WASHINGTON – Busloads of workers and their allies arrived in the nation’s capital, May Day, to demand that Congress enact HR-500, a bill by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrant workers.

The day of legislative action and protests was co-sponsored by the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty for Undocumented Immigrants, Jobs with Justice, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and other AFL-CIO-affiliated groups.

About 400 participants, Latino, Asian and white, wearing lapel stickers that read, “Vote Yes on HR-500 Reclaim the Right to Permanent Residency,” gathered at the end of the day in Senate Park.

They gathered to press for passage of the FREEDOM Act, which would grant legal status to all undocumented immigrants and create a new immigration status of temporary resident. This would give immigrants the opportunity to live in the U.S. for three consecutive years.

Gutierrez briefed the crowd on the status of his bill, pointing out that despite the setback to the cause of immigrant rights since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, 40 lawmakers have signed on as endorsers of the legislation.

He urged the crowd to visit lawmakers during their day of legislative action to ask them to endorse his amnesty bill, which would extend a general amnesty to those who have been in the United States since 1996.

Several busloads came from North and South Carolina. Jorge Medina, a leader of that contingent, told the World that the crowd was overjoyed by the victory in which Bush announced yesterday that there would be a 12-month extension of Temporary Protected Status for Hondurans. Medina said this would protect 120,000 Nicaraguans ans Hondurans from deportation.

Macario Quinde, a leader of La Voz de la Esperanza Latino Americana in New York told the World, “This is an historic moment, today. We are here to support HR-500. If Congress passes this bill and President Bush signs it, it would legalize the status of somewhere between 8 million and 9 million people. These are people who live in legal limbo.”

These millions of workers, he said, are forced into low paying jobs without benefits, subject to discrimination, employer and police harassment and instant deportation even though they are hard working, lawabiding people who want only to support themselves and their families.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attack, he said, was a grave setback for citizens and noncitizens alike, he said. “But the people are recovering and getting back to claiming their rights. We are trying to get the message to every lawmaker and to Bush to endorse this bill.”

Edita Nunez who emigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador 26 years ago said legal status will enable these millions of working people “to be part of society, to hold jobs, open banks accounts, buy homes without fear of deportation. That’s what immigrants want, the same rights as other people. That’s why we came to the United States. I have raised my familiy here. They are citizens.”

Quinde interjected, “Passage of HR-500 would have such a positive impact on the lives of so many millions. It will benefit not only those who gain legal status, it will benefit society as a whole. It will be a step toward U.S. citizenship for millions of people.”

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