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Immigrants on Freedom Ride Stopped in Texas

September 27, 2003|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

Two buses carrying 87 passengers on a labor-sponsored "immigrant workers freedom ride" were stopped for two hours by U.S. Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint east of El Paso Friday morning.

The passengers, including many immigrants, initially refused to answer questions about their residency status and instead sang civil rights songs. Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villareal said the passengers eventually cooperated and were released.

"There were no immigration violations detected" and the buses were allowed to proceed, Villareal said. He described the stop as routine.

The two buses left Los Angeles on Tuesday. They are among 18 crossing the country to promote immigration reform -- including a new amnesty for millions of illegal immigrant workers. Organized by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, the new freedom ride is modeled after one in 1961that promoted desegregation in the South. It will culminate with a rally planned for Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, N.Y., on Oct. 4.

Union spokesman David Koff said organizers had advised Bush administration officials of their plans to cross through Texas.

"Clearly someone chose to step up and interfere with what has been a high-profile, nonviolent trip across the country by people who are exercising the great American right to travel freely," he said.

Villareal, however, said his office knew nothing about the ride.

"I wish they had told us," he said. "We question everybody that comes through on commercial buses. If anything, this simply depicts a good enforcement posture."

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