The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride is going to put the unfair treatment of Haitian asylum-seekers on the national agenda, said Winie Cantave, co-director of the Miami-based Unite for Dignity. According to Cantave, hundreds of Haitian refugees, including entire families with small children, have been kept in indefinite detention after being apprehended on Florida’s shores.

Miami Freedom Ride coordinator Anna Fink says that while immigrants from other countries are usually allowed to remain with family or community members while awaiting asylum hearings, in the case of Haitians, many have been kept in custody even after having been granted asylum. In April, Attorney General John Ashcroft, citing national security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11 events, issued an executive ordering allowing the indefinite detention of Haitian asylum-seekers.

A highlight of the Miami bus’s thousand-mile route will be a stop at Savannah, Ga., where 500 free Haitians fought in the Revolutionary War. Haitians are the only one of the international brigades with no memorial. The Haitian-American Historical Society is working with the city of Savannah to erect a monument recognizing the Haitian brigade’s contribution, according to Fink.

On board the Miami bus, which departs Sept. 27 following a prayer breakfast at the Toussaint L’Ouverture Middle School, will be immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras and their supporters. Members of the service employees (SEIU), hotel workers (HERE), longshoremen (ILA), postal workers, garment workers (UNITE), laborers (LIUNA) and ironworkers as well as students and church activists will be among the 55 riders.

A Florida law which restricts immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses by requiring proof of legal residency is a question of great urgency to all immigrant groups, said Fink, and “all immigrants are concerned with the establishment of a path to citizenship.”

The Florida Freedom Riders’ route will includes stops to meet with farm workers in Immokalee, Fla., to support their boycott of Taco Bell, whose tomato suppliers impose slave labor conditions on their workers, and Wilson, N.C., where the Farm Labor Organizing Committee is calling for a boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles in support of cucumber harvesters.

In Orangeburg, S.C., riders will pay tribute to the three African American students massacred and 27 wounded by state police in a desegregation struggle in 1968. In Fayetteville, N.C., riders will meet with some of the 6,000 workers from Smithfield, the world’s largest pork processing plant, who are organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers to combat poverty wages and brutal working conditions.

Florida organizers hope that the activities around the Freedom Ride, which include a music and dance-filled Immigrant Workers Freedom Festival community send-off on Sept. 21, will raise awareness of the importance of voting among the state’s many naturalized citizens. “Participation in elections is a crucial matter in Florida,” Fink told the World.

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