(Photo by Bill Burke, Page One Photography, May 2014)
On the eve of what should have been a historic expansion of deferred action to millions of workers, the labor movement continues pressing for immigrant workers’protections
(Washington, DC) – At an event today, labor leaders, workers and community activists sent a clear and loud message: the labor movement will continue pushing forward with its efforts to build worker power for immigrants and will not wait for Congress, the courts, or the elections to act. The event took place a day before the expansion of deferred action was scheduled to start, granting millions of workers the opportunity to live and work without fear.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre was joined by UFCW Executive Vice President Esther Lopez, BAC President Jim Boland, NDLON Director of Legislative Affairs Salvador Sarmiento, and immigrant workers who are members of UNITE HERE and the Ironworkers unions together vowed to defend the new deferred action programs and continue pushing for immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship, while raising grave concerns about enforcement programs that undermine workers’ rights and destroy communities.
“Far from paralyzing us, the current legal injunction of the deferred action programs further highlight something that we in the labor movement know very well: that organizing is the only real force that moves our country forward,” said Gebre.
The three labor leaders pledged to keep pushing forward with the AFL-CIO’s We Rise! (¡Adelante!) national immigration implementation initiative. Gebre, Lopez and Boland announced that despite judicial roadblocks, labor unions across the country have opened their halls and successfully empowered immigrant workers through immigration and citizenship services; education and training; and organizing around campaigns to advance immigrant and workers’ rights.
“Tomorrow should have started a process where undocumented workers could apply for legal rights and some peace of mind,” said Lopez. “It was about taking a step forward, however modest, in the fight to fix our broken immigration system. But instead DAPA remains in limbo. And for that we say to the politicians who have held it up—shame on you. We know the lawsuit is a political stunt—an effort to scare away immigrant workers from applying for DAPA. The best way to fight back is to continue getting ready for this program. So that is exactly what we are doing. When the legal ruling finally comes down, UFCW members will either be ready to file for DAPA or fight for it.”
Carlos Castillo, an immigrant worker, who works as a day laborer and who representsTrabajadores Unidos de DC (United Workers of DC), took the stage to speak on the necessity of implementing the deferred action program so immigrants can get long overdue protections in the workplace.
“Tomorrow was to be a day of hope for people like me and for many families, but politicians have chosen to continue playing games with our lives. It’s clear now, we can no longer wait for justice from the courts and instead we must turn to each other as we organize ourselves on the job and in our communities to continue this fight for our rights,” said Castillo.
Jim Boland, who also is chair of the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council Immigration Committee, stated that his union will continue pressing forward to support deferred action programs to empower hardworking immigrant workers.
“As a former immigrant worker myself, now a U.S. citizen, I am proud to stand with my union brothers and sisters and millions of hard-working immigrant workers in our ongoing struggle to secure legal status for all eligible workers now under the provisions of DACA and DAPA,” said Boland. “Labor, worker and community advocates will not be deterred from helping to expand opportunity for the nation’s most vulnerable workers. It’s unconscionable for a country that prides itself on being a ‘nation of immigrants’ – we can and will find a better way forward.”
Speakers called upon officials in all levels and branches of government to continue to do more to protect immigrant workers against retaliation. They demanded transparency in implementation of the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) and asked the administration to use its enforcement discretion to protect workers brave enough to raise concerns about unsafe conditions, unpaid wages, and abusive treatment.