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A crowd of union members and supporters gathered yesterday in South Toledo to welcome three buses from the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride heading to Washington to lobby for increased rights for immigrants.
“There is no open debate on these topics, said Beatriz Maya, director of the Immigrant Rights Campaign for the AFL-CIO's Farm Labor Organizing Committee and organizer of the rally.
She said it was meant to call attention to the problems immigrant workers face and the need for labor here.
About 8.5 million undocumented aliens are in the United States, and about 100,000 of them live in Ohio, Mrs. Maya said.
The rally began with chants and prayers in Spanish and English in a parking lot at South Avenue and Broadway. About 200 people attended, Mrs. Maya said.
Supporters waved red-and-black FLOC flags as they marched down Broadway.
The crowd merged with 200 people from the freedom-ride buses. Mayor Jack Ford and City Councilmen Karyn McConnell, Bob McCloskey, and Frank Szollosi helped lead the march to Golden Rule Park at Crittenden and Maumee avenues.
A tent in the park overflowed with people listening to speeches and music.
Represented at the event were the United Food and Commercial Workers union, the Laborers International Union, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the Plumbers and Steamfitters union, Jobs with Justice, and the Toledo Federation of Teachers.
Mayor Ford welcomed the freedom riders and officially recognized their project.
About 1,000 immigrant workers and supporters are taking 10 bus routes to converge on Washington Wednesday for two days of lobbying.
The freedom riders, who patterned the trips on the civil rights movement, espouse three main principles included in FLOC's proposed Freedom Act:
This branch of the freedom ride started Saturday in Chicago. No Toledoans took part in the freedom ride, Mrs. Maya said.
Tony Vela of Local 134 of the Cook County Electricians in Chicago took a week off work to join the trip that started with a rally in Chicago.
“In a union, you are afforded a certain amount of stability,” Mr. Vela said. “When you see others who don't have that stability, you realize you should take it upon yourself to aid in their struggle.”
Victor and Carmen Ramirez of East Toledo made lunches for the riders. Mr. Ramirez is a member of FLOC. They were optimistic about the riders' abilities to influence lawmakers.
“We've got to make an impact,” Mrs. Ramirez said. “They have to notice us.”
FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez said their ideas are catching on: The U.S. Senate is poised to consider a bill that would make it easier for agricultural workers to obtain visas.
Riders on the buses represented Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Mexico, Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, and the Philippines, according to Lars Negstad, an organizer of the ride from Chicago.