Immigrant workers at the University of Maryland, College Park hope that a coming bus ride that will carry them and others to rallies throughout the Northeast will help draw attention to their problems, including low pay and long hours.
"We need help to improve our lives," said Maria Elena Torres, a janitor at the school who says she earns $8.77 an hour.
Torres spoke at a news conference yesterday to help raise awareness about Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a bus caravan that begins Sept. 20 with groups from nine major cities throughout the country.
Participants will meet in Washington to lobby members of Congress and then will head Oct. 3 to Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The caravan is planned to end with a rally Oct. 4 in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens.
Freedom Ride organizers hope that the movement, which could involve more than 250,000 workers, will highlight issues including legalizing undocumented workers who live in the United States, allowing them to file for citizenship, improving workplace conditions and helping immigrant workers reunite with their families.
Torres said she plans to participate in the Freedom Ride. She said she has lived in the United States for 10 years and hasn't had the money to go back to her native country, El Salvador, to visit her four children.
University officials could not be reached for comment after the news conference.
Delma Montano, who also works as a janitor at the school, said she has to clean nine classrooms every morning and more than 45 offices during the day. Despite her long hours, Montano said she was hesitant to complain.
"Many of us are scared of losing our jobs, which is why we don't speak up," she said.
Peter Shapiro, a Prince George's County councilman, said he supports the workers. "It breaks my heart to hear how some people are treated," the Democrat said.