Our fight for immigrant worker rights, as well as our efforts in advancing social and economic justice for all working people, is led by UNITE HERE’s General Vice-President of Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity, Maria Elena Durazo, whose work with our Union spans the course of over three decades.

A dynamic and vanguard voice of the American labor movement, Maria Elena’s courageous leadership has raised the profile of immigrant workers and advanced the standard of living for thousands of low-wage workers.

Her experience as a force for labor and living standards in California has led her to become a thought-leader for the nation, helping make immigration a priority for unions by framing the issue as an extension of the civil rights struggle.

One of the most significant campaigns for immigrant workers’ rights in the labor movement was in 2003, when Maria Elena led the Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride as National Director to address the nation’s immigration laws.

“Many of us come from countries where the powerful always have their way. Maria Elena has made us realize that we can take control and run things the way we want. Now we can speak up when there is an injustice. Maria Elena has instilled this in us.”
–Lourdes Portugal, UNITE HERE Local 11 member (Los Angeles Times, May 1989)

“As a proud union woman, I have seen firsthand how Maria Elena can inspire and create opportunities for a new generation of progressive leaders. I’m one of them. She made me believe that we can – and will – fight back.”
–Carmela Perez, UNITE HERE Culinary Union 226 Member (February 2017)

“The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride was not an event, but the creation of a new movement. Immigrants now understand we are not alone, we have allies. Whether you are second generation, or 14th, we have to build a new movement in the United States of America.”
–Maria Elena Durazo