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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Apr 5, 2016, 12:44 pm

Immigrant Activists Call for AFL-CIO To Expel Border Patrol Union After Donald Trump Endorsement

BY Mario Vasquez

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Donald Trump on a recent visit to the U.S.-Mexico border. (Matthew Busch / Getty Images)  

The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), a union representing 14,000 U.S Border Patrol agents, endorsed Donald Trump for President on March 30. It was the union’s first presidential endorsement. In response, Not1More, a national campaign for immigrant rights, released a statement last week calling for the AFL-CIO to end its affiliation with the border patrol agents, declaring “there’s no room for hate in the house of labor.” 

Although the AFL-CIO is a “staunch ally to immigrant communities,” according to Not1More organizer Marisa Franco, the NBPC’s endorsement represents a “very clear dilemma inside of labor.”

“We wanted to shine a light on the fact that inside of the federation, there is this border patrol union that has a legacy of abuse and brutality in immigrant communities,” says Franco, stressing that the endorsement of Trump is objectionable because of his “racism, xenophobia, [and] misogyny.”

But NBPC is adamant that Trump is the “only” acceptable candidate given his outspokenness on the “destruction wrought by open borders.” They said in an endorsement announcement:

We need a person in the White House who doesn't fear the media, who doesn't embrace political correctness, who doesn't need the money, who is familiar with success, who won't bow to foreign dictators, who is pro-military and values law enforcement, and who is angry for America and NOT subservient to the interests of other nations. Donald Trump is such a man. ...

When the so-called experts said he was too brash and outspoken, and that he would fade away, they were proven wrong. We are confident they will be proven wrong again in November when he becomes President of the United States.

After receiving an outpouring of support from NBPC locals along the U.S.-Mexican border, the national union overcame its initial reluctance and endorsed Trump, note some rank-and-file members. The NBPC is an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which is a member union of the AFL-CIO—making the actual mechanics of an expulsion of the NBPC somewhat difficult to parse. Either the AFGE would have to expel the NBPC, or the AFL-CIO would have to expel the AFGE. (The AFL-CIO could pressure the AFGE to expel the border patrol agents, though the federation lacks any kind of formal mechanism to force the union's hand to do so.) 

"The fundamental issue is that the Border Patrol union is contradicting the values and position of the AFL-CIO," says Franco of Not1More. "We think the AFL-CIO can and should do something about that, as it erodes the leadership they've shown on these issues, and it undermines political positions the federation has taken. Among the multiple ways available to the AFL-CIO to respond, staying silent isn’t one of them."

In June 2015, Trump began his campaign by saying that Mexico was “sending people” who were “rapists” and brought “drugs” into this country. Not long after, NBPC Local 2455 of Laredo, Texas, announced it would be hosting the Republican candidate for a tour of the border. The union’s national leadership forced the local to cancel the tour, likely because Trump was not yet viewed as a serious contender for the nomination. Trump wasted no time in saying NBPC members in Laredo were being “silenced.”

Although NBPC locals are not allowed to endorse presidential candidates, Trump continued receiving support from local unions along the border. Stephen Miller, the senior policy adviser for the Trump campaign, earned plaudits from members after appearing on Breitbart radio where he gushed, “[A Trump Administration is] going to work closely, directly, and intimately with the National Border Patrol Council to develop a border policy for this nation” and that “the NBPC will never again have a back seat in our nation’s border policy.”

Lindsay Schubiner, a staff with the Center for New Community (CNC), an anti-racist watchdog group, says that the Trump endorsement by NBPC is unsurprising, because there is a “pattern of National Border Patrol Council and the organized anti-immigrant movement working together to push forward nativist goals.”

A 2015 report by CNC documents “collusion” between NBPC members and groups working towards anti-immigrant causes. The CNC reports that NBPC members have leaked information to anti-immigrant groups (some of which are considered hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center) for use in their anti-immigrant campaigns. Additionally, union leaders’ testimony on border control mirror the talking points of these same organizations.

The NBPC is not the only AFL-CIO-affiliated union whose actions have raised concerns for communities of color. UAW Local 2865, the academic workers’ union in the University of California system, called on the AFL-CIO to disassociate from the International Union of Police Associations in July 2015. Brandon Buchanan told In These Times, “It’s a question of legitimacy. Having [the AFL-CIO] disaffiliate demonstrates that if our union organizing is meant to address the interests of workers—and black workers are included in that—then these police associations are inimical to those interests.”

In response to the call for police union disaffiliation by UAW 2865, Carmen Berkeley, Human & Women’s Rights Director at the AFL-CIO, told Buzzfeed News in January that they were “not in the business of kicking people out of unions,” explaining, “There’s a lot of reconciliation that needs to happen between communities of color and law enforcement, and [the AFL-CIO] want to be the bridge that helps them get there.”

Luis Serrano doesn’t think a call for reconciliation would suffice. Serrano is an immigrant rights organizer affiliated with Not1More, which helped draft a petition and letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka calling for the NBPC’s disassociation.

“I don’t think that’s [the AFL-CIO’s choice to make. Immigrants should be the ones that are in those conversations and need those conversations,” he says. The AFL-CIO did not return a request for comment.

Donald Trump has thus far responded to Not1More’s efforts in a statement to Breitbart Texas saying, “I know [the NBPC] will never be intimidated by any bullies trying to push them out of the AFL-CIO, and I will never back down from supporting them and fighting for them every day.  Together, we will end illegal immigration and save America.” (In the same article, a Breitbart director is revealed to have “received an award from the Laredo chapter of the NBPC for his work in helping to defend and bring a voice to Border Patrol agents.”)

Serrano says that as undocumented immigrant, the close relationship forming between the NBPC and Trump is “worrisome.”

“We know that these law enforcement agencies are not accountable, and by endorsing a racist’s xenophobic actions, we saw clearly what side they are on,” he says, stressing that the AFL-CIO needs to act on the NBPC’s endorsement. “There hasn’t been a better time [for the AFL-CIO]  to display [their] solidarity with immigrants than now.”

This post has been updated to clarify the NBPC's relationship to the AFGE and the AFL-CIO.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from southern California. He is a regular contributor to Working In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @mario_vsqz or email him at mario.vasquez.espinoza@gmail.com.

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