Latino immigrants, workers testify before panel at FLOC’s Human Rights Day event
By Alan Abrams
La Prensa Senior Correspondent
They couldn’t give their names, and even if they had done so, we wouldn’t print them.
They were the anonymous Latino immigrants and workers who testified Dec. 10 before a blue ribbon panel at the Toledo headquarters of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).
The event was one of 135 planned events across the country designed to mark the celebration of the United Nations-designated Human Rights Day, including Human Values for Transformative Action’s launching a Human Rights Video Series on Dec. 10th at the Collingwood Arts Center in Toledo.
Speaking through translators, those who testified painted a nightmare story of oppression, as they recounted their struggle to enter the United States to provide a better life for themselves and their families.
One immigrant who crossed the border at Nogales, Arizona told of borrowing $8,000 in loans from his family to be able to make the border crossing. But when he was left at the border for two weeks, the money quickly ran out. His first attempt to enter the country failed and he was arrested and sent back to México. But that didn’t deter him.
On his second try, he was forced to crawl through a tunnel a mile-and-a-half under the ground. He was robbed repeatedly and his pants, shirt, and shoes were taken from him. He was humiliated by being made to walk in his underwear through the streets of Nogales, México in the midst of thousands of fully-dressed people. But finally he made it across the border along with his wife and children. “I give thanks to God that I am here in America,” he said.
Another man, originally from Chihuahua, México, told of his frustration over the laws that required a ten-year wait if his sister, already a U.S. citizen, sponsored him for immigration. Undocumented workers such as himself are “exploited and not paid very well. But we work, so we eat,” he told the panel.
Yet another worker stepped forward to tell how the work they find in U.S.-America is temporary and with no benefits. “When our work is done, we have to leave, even though we pay taxes. I am legal enough to pay taxes, but illegal to receive benefits...All that we want is equality, to be treated equally. We would like to be able to open small businesses to employ people,” he said.
But one of the most disturbing stories was told by a worker at a bakery company located in a depressed Hancock County village about 45 miles south of Toledo. The company “employs about 250 Spanish-speaking people as well as temporary workers, and the boss of the company segregates the Spanish-speaking workers from the English-speaking workers and holds meetings about the drive to unionize the company.
“We are exploited everyday. The Spanish-speaking workers are not allowed to use the computers to learn English. They are always threatened about getting deported. Many of them are hurt at work, often losing body parts. But they are not given the same consideration as English-speaking workers,” the panel was told.
A representative of a union attempting to organize the workers at the plant spoke and corroborated the tale told by the worker.
Organized by Beatriz Maya of FLOC, the panel was moderated by Baldemar Velásquez, the president and founder of the farmworker’s union and a champion of the rights of undocumented workers.
In his closing remarks, Velásquez cited the words of Mexican author Carlos Fuentes on the immigration question. Said Fuentes, “What you are seeing is the silent reconquest of America,” acknowledging the Mexican conquest of white U.S.-America through immigration from México.
The panelists were Theresa Morris-Ramos of the office of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur; Dave Beckwith of the Needmore Foundation; Rev. Chester Chambers of the Methodist Church and Michael Szpak, a Washington-based representative of the AFL-CIO.
Szpak told the audience of almost 100, many of them workers with a sprinkling of representatives from other unions, that “You are human beings with rights. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
He said he was “moved by the testimony I’ve heard here tonight,” adding that the “AFL-CIO is committed to supporting immigrant workers in their struggle to obtain human rights in this country and to obtain union representation.”