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Rally seeks fairness for airport workers

Protesters call for changes in immigration law

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At the fourth protest rally since an airport security crackdown Dec. 11, participants said they were looking forward and seeking changes in immigration law.

The December raid resulted in the firing of 271 airport workers, mostly Hispanic, who allegedly falsified documents or lied about their backgrounds to get jobs. Of those 271, 69 were indicted and some face felony charges.

About 200 people went to the rally at the state Capitol Saturday. They want immigrants who work in the United States and pay taxes to be granted residency. Also, they want the Immigration and Naturalization Service to make application processes shorter and more efficient, said rally organizer Mark Alvarez, an attorney whose firm represents some of the airport workers.

"They invite them in with a wink and a nod and then give a smirk and a kick to the same people," Alvarez said. "This is about much more than the airport."

A number of community groups supported the rally on the Capitol steps, including Jobs With Justice, a group advocating workers' rights that gives its support to the most vulnerable communities, said George Neckel, volunteer organizer for the Utah branch.

"The fact that we have a class of workers readily exploitable brings down the conditions for all workers," he said. "The only reason (Hispanics) are not recognized and given legal status is because they are exploitable."

The ralliers' motto is, "Adelante, si podemos," which means, "Forward, yes we can," and in addition to demands for immigration law changes, they focus on active participation in society and economic fairness.

Amid shouts of "justice" in both Spanish and English and signs reading, "There are no illegal human beings," Alvarez said the Hispanic community also wants to stop being labeled and stereotyped.

"We are a part of this community, this society in the state of Utah," said Ingrid Quiroz, another rally organizer. "We should be proud of being Latinos."

Robert Gallegos of RAZPAC, a local minority advocacy group, circulated a petition demanding a "complete and thorough investigation" into the treatment of the airport workers. Gallegos said he hopes for between 1,000 and 2,000 signatures to submit to the Amnesty International organization.

"We're moving forward but we can't forget the people at the airport," Alvarez said. "We want them to be included in all the reforms we're asking for."

Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said 16 of the 69 pleaded guilty to at least one felony, usually for making a false statement. They were sentenced to time already served and now face deportation through INS. Another 14 cases were dismissed by the office for humanitarian reasons, 16 are still at large and under summons, and 23 pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

E-mail: lwhite@desnews.com