All people want to create opportunities for themselves and their families.
No one understands that more than the millions of immigrants who have left behind families and familiar places in search of work and the promise of a better life. Their sacrifices, and those of the millions who have come before, have built our nation literally and figuratively, and we are a stronger country because of them.
It is their struggles and the struggles of 11 million aspiring Americans that hundreds and thousands across the country will commemorate on May 1, International Worker’s Day.
Because of their status, many of these immigrant families live in the shadows, unable to speak out for themselves or to fully participate in their communities for fear of being separated from their loved ones or deported.
Sadly, employers take advantage of immigrant workers, many of whom don’t speak English and aren’t aware of the rights they have as people working in this country, and subject them to dangerous working conditions with little to no pay.
Here in Orange County, the employer abuse is so bad, the district attorney’s office has created a special task force to go after those who cheat workers on public works projects.
Members of the immigrant community — both documented and undocumented — are at much greater risk of death and injury on the job. Hardworking teachers, nurses, construction workers, caregivers, taxi drivers, dishwashers and farmworkers routinely face wage theft, violence on the job, harsh chemicals and other dangerous working conditions without safety equipment.
Faced with the false choice of leaving their job or suffering the abuse, immigrant workers remain silent. Those who have the courage to speak out risk deportation and being torn away from the families and lives they have built in the U.S.
Without a common-sense immigration process that creates a road map to citizenship for those who are American in every way except on paper, our country will continue to have a second class of workers who lack vital workplace protections. The 11 million will continue living in the shadows, lacking a voice in the workplace to defend their rights, which can, in turn, improve standards for all workers.
Many said comprehensive immigration reform couldn’t be done, not with the fierce anti-immigrant attacks from conservatives. But here we are, with an immigration bill that includes a road map to citizenship. Here we are, hundreds and thousands strong across the country — mothers and fathers and sons and wives and neighbors and co-workers — united for a better America, a brighter American Dream.
The labor movement is proud to stand together with our allies in the immigrant rights community, faith groups and other community partners to bring 11 million aspiring Americans out of the shadows. From Anaheim to Las Vegas to Chicago to Miami to New York, we will march together, united by our belief in the dignity of all working people.
There is incredible momentum and energy around creating a just and compassionate immigration process. With the passion, courage and hard work of our vibrant movement, we WILL have a road map to citizenship in 2013. Our work will not stop until we do, and our work will not stop until we stop tearing our families apart with needless deportations.
We will not stop until all working people can live and work with dignity and without fear.
Tefere Gebre is executive director for the Orange County Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, and is a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.