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Published: 4/10/2013

200 gather at University of Toledo to discuss immigration reform, worker inequality

BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Almost 200 people gathered at the University of Toledo’s Driscoll Center today to discuss immigration reform and worker inequality. 

“We are here and will remain in the shadows no longer,” 21-year-old Maria Sanchez of Columbus said. “We’re tired of living in fear.

“I am undocumented, but I can be productive and an asset to this country.”

The town hall meeting was hosted by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee based in Toledo. The statewide event featured several speakers that focused on various immigration-related issues.

Tim Burga, president of Ohio AFL-CIO, said his group is demanding that any immigration reform package include new laws that protect worker rights. He also said the proposed reform must include a “broad road map to citizenship,” and that the “process should begin as soon as possible.”

His strongest comments were reserved for efforts by some senators and agricultural lobbyists to expand the current foreign guest worker program, whihch allows agricultural business owners to hire foreigners to do work cheaper and under inhumane conditions.

“We will continue to work for a united labor movement committed to working for citizenship and against any return to the failed guest worker policies of the past.”

Also today, a committee of farmworker representatives and growers met in Washington to try and reach an agreement on the issue of the guest worker program, which is known as H-2A.

Baldemar Velasquez, founder of Farm Labor Organizing Committee, was not able to attend today’s event in Toledo because he was in Washington participating in negotiations with agricultural representatives.

Mr. Velasquez said the two sides agreed to place a cap on the number of guest workers that can come to the U.S. The maximum number is 150,000, he said.

Mr. Velasquez said he is still concerned because nobody wants to address the exploitation of foreign workers. Even if a process is adopted that puts immigrants on a path to citizenship, it doesn’t matter if they are still underpaid, forced to work and live under inhumane conditions.

“They can be legally exploited or illegally exploited – what’s the difference,” Mr. Velasquez said.

Contact Federico Martinez at fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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