Attacks on Immigrants Are Attacks on Workers

A longtime labor and community organizer responds to the Trump’s anti-immigrant measures.

Carlos Ballesteros February 22, 2017

Attacks on immigrants are attacks on all workers, says Dominguez. (Photo by Adrian Gonzalez)

Less than a week into his pres­i­den­cy, Don­ald Trump act­ed on some of his most extreme cam­paign promis­es. On Jan­u­ary 25, Trump signed a set of exec­u­tive orders that will add 10,000 more agents to the already bloat­ed Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), allow local law enforce­ment offi­cers to detain and arrest undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, block fed­er­al funds to sanc­tu­ary cities and com­mence con­struc­tion of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico bor­der. In oth­er words, Trump start­ed by doing exact­ly what he said he would — and he’s hard­ly slowed down since.

I’ve lived in this country most of my life, and still I’m never going to be fully accepted. I don’t believe Trump represents how the majority of the country feels.

While the sit­u­a­tion is bleak, Nei­di Dominguez believes that Trump’s agen­da can be defeat­ed. A long-time grass­roots orga­niz­er and cur­rent direc­tor of work­er cen­ter and com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment for the AFL-CIO, Dominguez is at the fore­front of a grow­ing alliance between the labor and immi­grant rights move­ments. She was instru­men­tal in the union-backed cam­paign that mobi­lized thou­sands of vot­ers in Mari­co­pa Coun­ty, Ariz., last fall to oust xeno­pho­bic Sher­iff Joe Arpaio, who sub­ject­ed immi­grants to the kind of racial pro­fil­ing and arbi­trary deten­tion that the pres­i­dent is now promis­ing to enact nationwide. 

Born in Cuer­nava­ca, cap­i­tal of the Mex­i­can state of More­los and a his­toric hotbed of left­ist orga­niz­ing, Dominguez migrat­ed to the U.S. at age 9. After grad­u­at­ing in 2008 from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Cruz, where she co-found­ed a sup­port group for undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents, Dominguez helped spear­head orga­niz­ing that led to the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pres­i­den­tial exec­u­tive order in 2011. Dominguez has con­tin­ued to orga­nize immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties since, par­tic­u­lar­ly at the work­place. In These Times spoke with her about Trump’s anti-immi­grant exec­u­tive orders. 

The first week of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy was chal­leng­ing, to say the least. How did you react to his immi­gra­tion orders?

It was a very hard day. A huge blow. At the same time, it was extreme­ly pow­er­ful to see people’s reac­tions. Here in D.C., there were mul­ti­ple actions. Our local labor coun­cil came out and took over the streets, and we had a ral­ly right in front of the White House. So I’ve been feel­ing both sick to my stom­ach and also real­ly ready to fight. 

Were you at all sur­prised by the news?

Trump ran his cam­paign on the backs of peo­ple like myself and my fam­i­ly, who are Mex­i­can and undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. I wasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly sur­prised or shocked by his win, but I was still very sad and angry. I’ve lived in this coun­try most of my life, and still I’m nev­er going to be ful­ly accept­ed. I don’t believe Trump rep­re­sents how the major­i­ty of the coun­try feels. But I still won­dered, How did we get here?” 

One of the few bright spots of the Novem­ber elec­tions was the suc­cess­ful cam­paign to oust Sher­iff Arpaio. What lessons can you draw from the Baz­ta Arpaio campaign? 

It was empow­er­ing to see the com­mu­ni­ty that had been ter­ror­ized by Arpaio take him out once and for all. We suc­cess­ful­ly engaged 10 dif­fer­ent unions, includ­ing the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Employ­ees (AFGE), a union that rep­re­sents Bor­der Patrol, to be part of this cam­paign to mobi­lize Lati­no vot­ers and kick out Arpaio. 

We real­ly attempt­ed to get more sophis­ti­cat­ed around the ques­tion of what kind of infra­struc­ture, data and sup­port we need­ed to mobi­lize peo­ple of col­or beyond the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. We can’t just be talk­ing to peo­ple once every four years. The doors that we knocked on were those of Lati­no vot­ers who only vot­ed once in the last four years, mak­ing them only 30 per­cent like­ly to vote. Those were vot­ers that nei­ther par­ty was reach­ing. But we felt that we need­ed to talk to them because if we don’t, who will? All Lati­nos are not the same, and peo­ple are going to move based on issues, not candidates. 

Arpaio’s poli­cies are a stark exam­ple of how undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants are crim­i­nal­ized. But more lib­er­al poli­cies, includ­ing those in many sanc­tu­ary cities and Pres­i­dent Obama’s Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram, don’t pro­tect crim­i­nal” immi­grants. Many peo­ple don’t real­ize that undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants can be charged for cross­ing the bor­der, and are often more like­ly to be pro­filed and stopped for traf­fic vio­la­tions. What’s the effect of this rhetoric that divides immi­grants into the good” and the bad”?

Hav­ing been part of the DACA move­ment, I learned that we cre­ate the strongest shield when we fight for every­one, includ­ing those, for exam­ple, with DUIs. Many peo­ple are going to have some­thing in their his­to­ry that hap­pened years ago. 

In the past, there’s a threat we’ve seen — even with the DREAM Act— that when a bill has a very small ben­e­fit for a very spe­cif­ic group of peo­ple, law­mak­ers will often attach even harsh­er enforce­ment mea­sures for every­one else to it. We need to have a much more com­plex con­ver­sa­tion about immi­gra­tion. Fur­ther crim­i­nal­iz­ing immi­grants in this coun­try is not the answer. 

Orga­niz­ers are call­ing on schools, uni­ver­si­ties and places of wor­ship to pro­vide sanc­tu­ary for all immi­grants fac­ing depor­ta­tion. Do you see this as a way forward? 

Yes, but we need to both defend and expand the mean­ing of sanc­tu­ary.” We can’t just have sanc­tu­ary cities for immi­grants. It has to be a sanc­tu­ary city for every­one — peo­ple of col­or, Mus­lims, immi­grants, refugees, women and the LGBTQ community. 

How have your own expe­ri­ences as an immi­grant shaped your pol­i­tics?

A year after I came to the Unit­ed States, Cal­i­for­nia passed Propo­si­tion 227, which got rid of bilin­gual edu­ca­tion in pub­lic schools. I didn’t know any Eng­lish and I was put into this Eng­lish-only class. That first year was hor­ri­ble, very trau­ma­tiz­ing for a 9‑year-old. That shaped my under­stand­ing of my place in this coun­try as an immi­grant, that I was undoc­u­ment­ed and what that meant. 

As a kid, my mom got active with the Insti­tute of Pop­u­lar Edu­ca­tion of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, which was orga­niz­ing immi­grant fam­i­lies and work­ers. So at 10, I was out there at protests, talk­ing about how we need to have safe spaces for work­ers who were being per­se­cut­ed by the local police. 

What role should the labor move­ment play in sup­port­ing immigrants?

I grew up in a house­hold where my moth­er was a domes­tic work­er and orga­niz­er. My entry point into this move­ment was the inter­sec­tion of work­ers’ rights and immi­gra­tion. So for me, labor being engaged and ful­ly at the fore­front of the immi­grant rights fight in this coun­try is not just out of sol­i­dar­i­ty. Those are our mem­bers. We have mil­lions of immi­grant work­ers in our unions. And immi­grant work­ers are what make this coun­try run every day, regard­less of whether they have a union con­tract or not. 

What do you think the work­place will look like for immi­grants under a Trump pres­i­den­cy?

We expect to see more work­place raids. Immi­gra­tion enforce­ment is also a clear attack on unions. Employ­ers might decide to self-audit” and call up ICE to raid a shop that is orga­niz­ing. That could lit­er­al­ly kill a whole union cam­paign. Where there’s already a union con­tract, employ­ers might use the same tac­tic in the mid­dle of rene­go­ti­at­ing that con­tract to basi­cal­ly kill the union. 

We see work­place raids as very anti-work­er, anti-union tac­tics. The more we have to respond to work­place raids instead of ser­vic­ing and grow­ing our union, the more the union is under threat. 

What does sol­i­dar­i­ty look like in this moment?

Right now, we’re get­ting our mem­bers ready to defend their unions against the raids. Giv­en the speed of these attacks, we are going to have to cre­ate some­thing new. It’s time for us all to fight togeth­er. There are already attacks on immi­grants and Mus­lims and refugees, but more are on their way. We know what Trump’s agen­da is. Let’s not just wait until those things hit. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. 

Car­los Balles­teros is a free­lance writer based in Chica­go. He was born and raised in the South Side and recent­ly grad­u­at­ed from Clare­mont McKen­na Col­lege with a B.A. in History.
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