Unions Can Protect Workers From Deportation. This Coalition of 3.5 Million Is Showing How.

Heather Gies

Teamsters, Working Families United, National TPS Alliance, LA County Federation of Labor, CARECEN, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) gathered together for a rally'nin Wilmington on Wednesday, October. 3, 2018. This marked the end of a 3-day strike by truckers and warehouse workers. (Photo by Brittany Murray/Digital First Media/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images)

After more than two decades liv­ing, work­ing, and build­ing a fam­i­ly in the Unit­ed States, Cesar Rodriguez feels his life is in lim­bo. The dri­ver for the Ports of Los Ange­les and Long Beach from El Sal­vador is one of more than 300,000 immi­grants at risk of los­ing their tem­po­rary legal sta­tus in the U.S. after the Trump admin­is­tra­tion scrapped the pro­gram for a hand­ful of countries.

I’m a truck­er, and I make my liv­ing with my license. With­out my license, I lose my job,” Rodriguez told In These Times. If I lose my job, I would lose every­thing — even my fam­i­ly, because I wouldn’t have a way to sup­port them.”

Rodriguez arrived in the Unit­ed States in 1996. After liv­ing undoc­u­ment­ed for five years, the gov­ern­ment extend­ed Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) to Sal­vado­rans when a dev­as­tat­ing pair of earth­quakes rocked their home coun­try, giv­ing immi­grants like Rodriguez pro­tec­tion from depor­ta­tion and autho­riza­tion to work. Now, he’s wor­ried about what the can­cel­la­tion of the pro­gram will mean for him and his wife, also a TPS hold­er from El Sal­vador, and their three U.S.-born children.

We’re fight­ing so that they don’t take away our TPS,” he said. I don’t want to be sep­a­rat­ed from my chil­dren, from my family.”

Rodriguez, part of a group of port dri­vers fight­ing for rights to join a union, is relieved to have parts of the labor move­ment on his side. Although he is not union­ized, he says he already feels like part of a Team­sters local due to the union’s sup­port for work­ers like him on two fronts: labor rights and immi­gra­tion justice.

The Team­sters is one of the labor unions tak­ing a stand to pro­tect TPS hold­ers with the mes­sage that immi­grant rights are work­er rights. Six unions rep­re­sent­ing 3.5 mil­lion work­ers have teamed up under the ban­ner of Work­ing Fam­i­lies Unit­ed to join the cam­paign to save TPS and demand Con­gress take bipar­ti­san action to allow TPS hold­ers to stay in the country.

The fight to save TPS for us is very clear from both a work­er rights side and a union side. That’s what brought us togeth­er,” said Nei­di Dominguez, nation­al strate­gic orga­niz­ing coor­di­na­tor with the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), which is part of the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Unit­ed coalition.

Not only would the can­cel­la­tion of TPS direct­ly impact scores of union mem­bers, but it would also strip unions of mem­ber­ship, Dominguez told In These Times. This is espe­cial­ly true for the con­struc­tion and food ser­vice indus­tries, which, accord­ing to the Cen­ter for Migra­tion Stud­ies, respec­tive­ly employ 51,700 and 32,400 recip­i­ents of TPS from El Sal­vador, Hon­duras and Haiti, the three coun­tries whose immi­grants make up the vast major­i­ty of TPS holders.

The goal is to pro­tect fam­i­lies from deportation”

Formed last year by IUPAT, the Brick­lay­ers, Iron­work­ers, Unite Here and the Unit­ed Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers (UFCW) — and lat­er joined by the Team­sters — Work­ing Fam­i­lies Unit­ed aims to raise aware­ness about immi­grant jus­tice and echo immi­grant rights groups in demand­ing U.S. law­mak­ers cre­ate a per­ma­nent solu­tion to replace TPS.

The goal is to pro­tect fam­i­lies from depor­ta­tion,” Bethany Khan, spokesper­son for the Culi­nary Union, a Neva­da affil­i­ate of the Unite Here union and part of the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Unit­ed coali­tion, told In These Times. It’s about keep­ing fam­i­lies togeth­er, treat­ing work­ers with respect and dig­ni­ty, edu­cat­ing peo­ple on TPS and DACA [Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals], and ele­vat­ing the pro­files of these workers.”

Thou­sands of TPS hold­ers set to become undoc­u­ment­ed as they lose their sta­tus over the next year won room to breath last week when a fed­er­al judge put a hold on the Trump administration’s ter­mi­na­tion of TPS for El Sal­vador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. The pause did not extend to some 57,000 Hon­duran TPS recip­i­ents whose sta­tus will expire in Jan­u­ary 2020. Regard­less, cam­paign­ers aren’t skip­ping a beat in con­tin­u­ing to demand a long-term solution.

Work­ing Fam­i­lies Unit­ed has orga­nized 10 events in 10 cities across the coun­try in the lead up to the Novem­ber 6 midterm elec­tions to pres­sure con­gres­sion­al can­di­dates to sup­port ini­tia­tives that would give per­ma­nent sta­tus to TPS hold­ers, Dominguez explained.

The Team­sters kicked off the series of events ear­li­er this month in Los Ange­les. Port dri­vers, includ­ing Rodriguez, ded­i­cat­ed the last day of their three-day strike to putting the spot­light on TPS and demand­ing leg­isla­tive action for immi­grant workers.

Rodriguez said the protest showed that immi­grant work­ers are not alone and also helped spur fur­ther con­ver­sa­tions about TPS.

Ral­lies in Tuc­son, Orlan­do, and North­ern Vir­ginia, and a TPS forum in Las Vegas, fol­lowed after the L.A. action. More events are planned next week in Hous­ton and Atlanta, and orga­niz­ers are still final­iz­ing plans for protests in in New York, San Fran­cis­co and Den­ver, accord­ing to Dominguez.

Part of the com­mu­ni­ty where we live.”

For John Doher­ty, nation­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor of IUPAT, the midterm elec­tions are key to tip the scales away from the Repub­li­can Par­ty, which he described as a par­ty that has his­tor­i­cal­ly been against work­ers and work­er rights.”

Elva Lan­dav­erde, a Las Vegas hotel house­keep­er and rank-and-file mem­ber of the Culi­nary Union, also sees the midterms as an impor­tant oppor­tu­ni­ty. She took a leave of absence from her job along­side some 100 oth­er union mem­bers to can­vas ahead of the elec­tion. An immi­grant from El Sal­vador who has lived in the Unit­ed States for 18 years, Lan­dav­erde doesn’t have vot­ing rights in the U.S. Nev­er­the­less, she’s knock­ing on doors to encour­age cit­i­zens to cast their bal­lots for can­di­dates that have com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing immi­grant rights.

We need immi­gra­tion reform,” Lan­dav­erde told In These Times. She has a non-immi­grant sta­tus known as the U Visa, but TPS still hits close to home, as some of her fam­i­ly mem­bers are recip­i­ents. Every­one has to go out to vote so that our voice matters.”

The Culi­nary Union, Nevada’s largest immi­grant orga­ni­za­tion with 54 per­cent Lati­no mem­ber­ship, has been orga­niz­ing for immi­grant rights since before the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Unit­ed coali­tion formed last year. One impor­tant win for the union, accord­ing to Khan, has been secur­ing immi­gra­tion lan­guage in the con­tracts of 48,000 work­ers that will strength­en job pro­tec­tions for employ­ees in the event that they lose their cur­rent immi­gra­tion status.

Along with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, the Culi­nary Union also has orga­nized del­e­ga­tions of TPS mem­bers to share their sto­ries with elect­ed offi­cials in Wash­ing­ton and lob­by rep­re­sen­ta­tives to sup­port leg­is­la­tion to swap TPS hold­ers’ tem­po­rary sta­tus for residency.

Two pieces of pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, the Safe Envi­ron­ment from Coun­tries Under Repres­sion and Emer­gency Act (SECURE) in the Sen­ate and the Amer­i­can Promise Act of 2017 in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, aim to reg­u­lar­ize TPS hold­ers’ sta­tus by mak­ing them eli­gi­ble to apply for per­ma­nent res­i­den­cy, with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to even­tu­al­ly become cit­i­zens. If passed, the laws would end the uncer­tain­ty hang­ing over some 400,000 TPS recip­i­ents from 10 coun­tries.

Vic­tor Mora, a TPS hold­er from El Sal­vador who works at the Bel­la­gio casi­no in Las Vegas, is one of the peo­ple who has trav­eled to Capi­tol Hill with the Culi­nary Union to share his sto­ry and call for per­ma­nent sta­tus. He has lived in the Unit­ed States since the ear­ly 1990s and has three U.S. cit­i­zen children.

We ask for sup­port like how we have always sup­port­ed this coun­try,” Mora told In These Times, stress­ing the pos­i­tive impact immi­grant work­ers have on the U.S. economy.

Accord­ing to the Immi­grant Legal Resource Cen­ter, deport­ing TPS hold­ers from El Sal­vador, Haiti and Hon­duras would cost U.S. tax­pay­ers $3.1 bil­lion dollars.

Gio­van­ni Peri, pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics and direc­tor of the Tem­po­rary Migra­tion Clus­ter at Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis, has con­duct­ed research that con­firms the aca­d­e­m­ic con­sen­sus that immi­gra­tion fuels job cre­ation and stim­u­lates the economy.

Immi­gra­tion in a local econ­o­my does not depress wages or reduce the job oppor­tu­ni­ties for Amer­i­can work­ers. Instead, it allows this place to con­tin­ue to grow,” Peri told In These Times. On the flip side, harsh depor­ta­tion cam­paigns can dis­rupt local economies and neg­a­tive­ly impact wages and employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, he said.

The des­tiny of for­eign work­ers and Amer­i­can work­ers are con­nect­ed,” Peri added. If com­pa­nies are scared by enforce­ment they move out. They also will hire few­er Amer­i­can work­ers … and when immi­grants come in the sec­tors thrive, there are more oppor­tu­ni­ties, and some of them are for Amer­i­can workers.”

Jose Pal­ma, a mem­ber of the Nation­al TPS Alliance and a TPS hold­er from El Sal­vador who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, stressed that although the eco­nom­ic fac­tors are unde­ni­able, the role of immi­grants in the Unit­ed States goes much deeper.

The TPS com­mu­ni­ty, we are more than just an eco­nom­ic con­tri­bu­tion to the Unit­ed States. We feel that we are part of the com­mu­ni­ty where we live,” Pal­ma, a para­le­gal in Mass­a­chu­setts, told In These Times. He has vol­un­teered for var­i­ous non-prof­it caus­es, and he and his three U.S. chil­dren are active in their local church. We are part of the com­mu­ni­ty, so we advo­cate not only for the undoc­u­ment­ed or peo­ple with TPS, but for the whole community.”

More than half of Hon­duran and Sal­vado­ran TPS recip­i­ents have lived in the Unit­ed States for more than 20 years.

Pal­ma applaud­ed unions for join­ing the fight for immi­grant rights, as well as for their will­ing­ness to fol­low the lead­er­ship of TPS hold­ers. He’s opti­mistic that with sup­port from unions, busi­ness­es and com­mu­ni­ties, advo­cates will be able to suc­cess­ful­ly pres­sure law­mak­ers to pass reforms.

We need to build pow­er with our allies to con­vince leg­is­la­tors to sup­port a per­ma­nent res­i­dence cam­paign,” he said, adding that he sees the midterm elec­tions as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to raise aware­ness about TPS.

Accord­ing to IUPAT’s Dominguez, the aware­ness-rais­ing is pay­ing off.

The TPS fight has been a real­ly good bridge to a lot of mem­bers that strug­gle to under­stand all the intri­ca­cies of the immi­gra­tion debate in the coun­try and has actu­al­ly opened up real­ly con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tions,” she said. This debate has been a good one in our mem­ber­ship to real­ly start doing more polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion about this issue.”

The IUPAT is also work­ing in four cities with high immi­grant pop­u­la­tions — Nashville, Atlanta, Hous­ton and Den­ver — to orga­nize non-union­ized work­ers, includ­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immigrants.

Dominguez believes that by lead­ing by exam­ple, unions orga­niz­ing around immi­gra­tion issues will help strength­en the foun­da­tions of a larg­er pro­gres­sive move­ment where unions can play a part in stand­ing up for immi­grant rights.

It aches me to say that I don’t think that as an entire labor move­ment we have been as strong as we could have been in respond­ing to these attacks against immi­grants, against women, against Mus­lims,” she said. But we have at least that frac­ture with the dom­i­nant silence that gives a bet­ter chance for the future that we can be the labor move­ment that we need to be in this coun­try to actu­al­ly build pow­er for every sin­gle worker.”

For Rodriguez, the port dri­ver and TPS hold­er from Los Ange­les, the bot­tom line is sim­ple: TPS hold­ers are part of U.S. soci­ety and deserve residency.

We don’t ask that the gov­ern­ment help take care of us,” he said. Just give us res­i­den­cy so we can con­tin­ue to work hard with our fam­i­lies and move forward.”

Heather Gies is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten on human rights, social move­ments and envi­ron­men­tal issues for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, In These Times and Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. Fol­low her on twit­ter @HeatherGies.
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