After Member Is Deported, New York Teamsters Declare Themselves Sanctuary Union

Sarah Jaffe

The family Eber Garcia Vasquez. (Courtesy of Teamsters Joint Council)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. We’re now sev­er­al months into the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, and activists have scored some impor­tant vic­to­ries in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many peo­ple, the ques­tion of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors and edu­ca­tors about how to resist and build a bet­ter world.

George Miran­da: This is George Miran­da. I am pres­i­dent of the 120,000-member Team­sters Joint Coun­cil 16. It’s an umbrel­la group made up of 27 dif­fer­ent local unions in New York City.

Sarah Jaffe: Let’s start at the begin­ning. One of your mem­bers was deport­ed last week, right?

George: Cor­rect. Eber Gar­cia Vasquez was deport­ed basi­cal­ly because his asy­lum case was reject­ed. He has been a Team­ster for 26 years and has been work­ing in this coun­try and rais­ing his fam­i­ly on that. He has been report­ing in rou­tine­ly, as he is required to.

This time, he went in, and they kept him and sched­uled him for depor­ta­tion. He left behind his fam­i­ly, includ­ing three kids. He mar­ried a U.S. cit­i­zen, and his three kids are U.S. cit­i­zens. He was on his way to a green card. Now he is in Guatemala. That is the sto­ry. If it hap­pens to him, it could hap­pen to anybody.

Sarah: You guys had a cam­paign try­ing to stop his depor­ta­tion, right? Can you tell us a lit­tle bit about that?

George: Yes, we had a cam­paign, and we still have a cam­paign to stop his depor­ta­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, events and time over­took us, but we had a lot of orga­ni­za­tions come to our aid. We had a protest and ral­ly, and we still have a cam­paign peti­tion going around to stop the depor­ta­tion. But unfor­tu­nate­ly, like I said, he was on the fast track for some rea­son. We still don’t know why. Nobody is telling us why.

Again, there was absolute­ly noth­ing what­so­ev­er that he did wrong. In fact, the only rea­son they picked him up is that he was report­ing in routinely.

Sarah: I think a lot of peo­ple don’t under­stand that. Can you tell us a lit­tle bit more about that, the fact that a lot of peo­ple like him are check­ing in with authorities?

George: You have to report in to immi­gra­tion folks. They ask the same ques­tions they always ask, like, Where are you? Are you work­ing?” They get your address and so forth. Then, all they have got to do is just report in so they know exact­ly where they are. That’s it. And he did that. Routinely.

Sarah: After this, your union passed a res­o­lu­tion to become a sanc­tu­ary union. Tell us what that means and how that deci­sion came to be.

George: Immi­grants’’ rights and labor rights are explic­it­ly tied togeth­er. You can’t have one with­out the oth­er. If you lose on one issue, whether it is immi­grants or labor, you lose the oth­er. It is obvi­ous that we are tied togeth­er, and there is no way that we could say that we are not a union of immigrants.

It seems to us that we need to pro­tect our mem­bers. We are all immi­grants, but we need to pro­tect our mem­bers now more than ever, since this admin­is­tra­tion has tak­en the posi­tion that they have tak­en on immi­grants. So we have decid­ed to be a sanc­tu­ary union, mean­ing that we pro­tect our mem­bers. They are work­ing, they are earn­ing their liv­ing, they are sup­port­ing their fam­i­lies, and they are not doing any­thing that is crim­i­nal or what­ev­er. We are not going to coop­er­ate with the immi­gra­tion ser­vice what­so­ev­er in going after our members.

We are going to indoc­tri­nate our mem­bers and help them with attor­neys and what­ev­er oth­er exper­tise they need in order to pro­tect them and their fam­i­lies and, hope­ful­ly, get them out of the mess that they may find them­selves in. That is what sanc­tu­ary unions mean. We are going to indoc­tri­nate all of our mem­bers, all our stew­ards, as to exact­ly what that means.

Sarah: You men­tioned that you will try to bar­gain for pro­tec­tions for undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers in labor con­tracts, as well.

George: Yes, we put lan­guage in to try to pro­tect them so that if they have to go to court or what­ev­er, they don’t end up los­ing their jobs or their rights on the job, just because ICE came up and is try­ing to deport them. So, they main­tain their rights and their benefits.

Sarah: These days, the labor move­ment is pret­ty invest­ed in the rights of immi­grant work­ers, but that wasn’t always so. Peo­ple like Trump still try to play immi­grant work­ers off against U.S.-born work­ers, say­ing: Oh, they are com­ing for your jobs.” Talk about why it is impor­tant for unions to fight on this front.

George: Again, the labor move­ment was made up of immi­grants com­ing back in the ear­ly days of this coun­try. You can­not sep­a­rate us from the immi­gra­tion sit­u­a­tion in this coun­try. They are explic­it­ly tied togeth­er. These peo­ple earn a liv­ing, they are in build­ing trades, they are mechan­ics, they are in every walk of life. They are part of the fiber of the labor move­ment, the immi­grant move­ment. We are tied at the hip.

Sarah: Your union also has been involved in oth­er protests and actions that have gone on about the Mus­lim ban, the bor­der wall, things like that. Talk about what that orga­niz­ing in the com­mu­ni­ty looks like for your union.

George: Lit­tle by lit­tle peo­ple are see­ing that we are all tied togeth­er, and we all have the same issues, whether it is putting a wall up or what­ev­er it may be. All of it is designed to weak­en unions and weak­en the uni­ty of immi­grants and send them back. Over time, peo­ple are now see­ing that we are more alike than we have ever been before, and we have got to start wak­ing up and fight­ing back. That is what this is all about.

Sarah: Do you know of oth­er unions that have passed sim­i­lar resolutions?

George: I do not off the top of my head sit­ting here today. I am sure that there prob­a­bly will be some that have tak­en the posi­tion. I am sure that unions have tak­en posi­tions to pro­tect their mem­bers who are immi­grants. I am not sure whether they have tak­en the posi­tion of being a sanc­tu­ary union to the extent that the Team­sters have.

Sarah: Do you see this as a mod­el that should spread and could spread to dif­fer­ent places?

George: I would hope so. They can call it what­ev­er they want, but I would hope that they are tak­ing the same action that the Team­sters have tak­en with our res­o­lu­tion and our dif­fer­ent local unions.

Sarah: Any­thing else peo­ple should know about this?

George: I think it is going to start devel­op­ing over time more and more. It is going to start hav­ing legs and grow­ing as this immi­gra­tion sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues to fes­ter and fes­ter in this country.

Sarah: How can peo­ple keep up with you and with the union?

George: They can con­tact me at the Team­sters Joint Coun­cil 16 and fol­low us on Face­book.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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