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Workers call for legalizing immigrant laborers

By Deborah Kong AP Minority Issues Writer
Monday September 03, 2001

SAN JOSE – Union leaders and workers took to church pulpits on Labor Day weekend to demand legal status for undocumented immigrant workers. 

“The problem of legalization is a reality. Our faith tells us we have to create a more just community,” said Rosalino Pedres, a union organizer who spoke after Mass at Christ the King Catholic Church in San Jose. “We can make a difference if we decide to put our faith into action.” 

Workers and labor leaders also voiced their support for legalizing immigrant workers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities with large immigrant populations, 

Their appeals came as President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox prepared to meet later this week to discuss issues including immigration reform. 

However, a detailed plan for granting legal status to some of the 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States will not be announced, as some had hoped. Facing conservative opposition, Bush abandoned plans for announcing an agreement on immigration during Fox’s visit, and instead they will outline principles and a framework for immigration reform. 

Pedres asked church members to imagine being unable to buy homes, being forced by landlords to leave their apartments and losing their jobs after working for many years. Undocumented immigrants have no protections against these things, said Pedres, 36, a former janitor who came to the United States from Mexico in 1986. 

“Who would support a legalization in this room?” Pedres asked. Most of the 225 people attending the service silently raised their hands. 

The annual labor-in-the-pulpits events are organized by the AFL-CIO and the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. At other churches, mosques and synagogues across the country, labor and religious leaders spoke about workers’ issues including living wages and affordable housing. 

After the service in San Jose, union organizers asked church members to sign cards asking officials to support national immigration reform and legalization, affordable housing and tenants rights. 

Legalization “will help everybody that’s undocumented. I suffered a lot so I could be in this country,” said Luis Garcia, 51, who attended the services. “I needed to give a better future to my children.” 

Garcia came to the United States from Mexico in 1970 in search of job opportunities. He benefited from amnesty in 1986, when Congress granted legal status to 2.7 million illegal immigrants. 

Since then, Garcia said, “I’ve been a lot more at peace. Before then, I had that fear the INS could grab me at anytime and I could lose my dreams.” 

Others said granting undocumented immigrants legal status could make a difference for their children. Currently, undocumented students do not qualify for the lower tuition charged residents who attend in-state colleges and universities, even if they have lived there most of their lives. Instead, they must pay higher college and university tuition charged to out-of-state students. 

Maria Nunez, 42, said she can’t afford that for her 17-year-old son, Alberto Reyes. 

“He’s been a very good student and he really wants to go to college and he says ’Mom, I can’t dream because I can’t go to college,”’ said Nunez, who is undocumented. 

Nunez said she has been forced to leave janitorial jobs when employers find she is undocumented, forcing her to jump from job to job. 

“I’ve worked hard, and many times I’ve been left out of work,” she said.