Approximately 500 students walking across the Diag yesterday afternoon took the time to address postcards to President Bush, urging him to give undocumented workers more rights and benefits through a program called Reward Work.
The program’s message was being spread by members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, who were participating in a Day of Action with approximately two dozen other schools across the country.
Reward Work is a program designed to urge the passing of legislation that supports immigrant workers by preventing exploitation, keeping their families together and promoting public health and educational opportunities.
RC senior Aaron Goodman, a member of SOLE, said the legislation has been previously introduced to Congress several times, but was shelved after the events of Sept. 11.
“There was a pretty strong wave of anti-immigrant sentiment going on at that time. Legislation that is trying to give rights to immigrants probably wouldn’t be popular at that time,” Goodman said. “We are trying to light a fire back under this one.”
Immigrant and undocumented workers play a large role in the Ann Arbor area, making it important to address the issue, SOLE members said.
“Students are getting involved in this because we realize that (immigrants) are a part of our community and we realize that they are contributing members of our community,” RC sophomore and SOLE member Taylor Hales said. “It’s important for us to be fighting for those who so often don’t have a voice.”
Hales added that he has seen many undocumented workers in Ann Arbor who do not have legal rights because they are not citizens, but said those workers are still important to area businesses.
“These are people who provide a host of services to the community. There are a lot of undocumented janitors. There are a lot of undocumented workers who wash dishes and are busboys,” he said. “If you go to most any restaurant in Ann Arbor, you are relying on undocumented labor.”
Several SOLE members said they were satisfied with students’ interest in immigrant workers’ rights and the success of the Day of Action.
“I was impressed with the willingness of people to stop and listen and learn,” said RC junior Mike Swiryn, a SOLE member who took part in the Day of Action by standing on the Diag and asking passer-bys to sign postcards.
University students were not the only ones participating in the Day of Action, which also occurred at Harvard University, Florida State University and The George Washington University.
Reward Work’s national goal is to mail 1,000,000 postcards to the president. SOLE members here ran out of postcards in their Day of Action.
Though SOLE was trying to educate others about the situations immigrant and undocumented workers face, Swiryn said the day had been informative for him as well.
He said several people stopped to talk to him about the situations immigrant workers face, including one undocumented worker who was unable to fill out a postcard.
“He said it’s hard. He couldn’t fill out a postcard to help others because he didn’t have a residence or phone number,” Swiryn said.
Swiryn added that he felt the day’s biggest challenge was capturing people’s attention and explaining the complexity of the issue to students in the amount of time they were able to give him.
“People tend to think in soundbytes, but this is larger. It’s hard to give people the whole story as they walk by,” he said. “To get through all that is hard, but it’s great when they listen.”