Labor Responds as Deportation Fears Grip Immigrant Workers and Their Families
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Labor Responds as Deportation Fears Grip Immigrant Workers and Their Families

September 14, 2017

By Joe Maniscalco

Finding sanctuary in the union. Labor reacts to deportation crisis. Photo by Tammy Meadows.

New York, NY – NYC Labor unions still reeling from last week’s brazen deportation of 54-year-old Teamster Eber Garcia Vasquez to Guatemala, are vowing to make it tougher for ICE agents acting under direction of the Trump administration to seize any more immigrant workers within their ranks.

Teamsters Joint Council 16, this week, declared itself a “Sanctuary Union” and said it will “proactively provide trainings, legal assistance and organize[d] support for immigrant teamsters.”

“Being a sanctuary union means we will do all that is in our power to keep our immigrant members safe and keep their families together,” Teamsters JC 16 President George Miranda said in a statement. “The Teamsters have fought against racism since our first days as a union, and this is the next step.”

Eber Garcia Vasquez, a Local 813 Teamster who worked at the Stericycle medical-waste disposal company on Long Island for the past 26 years, and is husband to a U.S. citizen, was taken into custody following a routine check-in with U.S. Immigration authorities in August, and kicked out of the country on September 6 — leaving behind his wife, three children and two grandchildren.

The Teamster’s abrupt deportation to Guatemala — a war-torn country he originally fled during the late 1980s to escape its bloody paramilitary dictatorship — has stung other union leaders across New York City who count many immigrant workers among their members.

“We are a nation of immigrants and our union welcomes immigrants – people who struggled to come to a land that was founded on freedom,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] President Stuart Appelbaum said this week. “And the American people know immigrants are the foundation of our communities – a foundation that cannot be paved over.”

Donald Trump, however, made crystal clear his intention of doing just that back in January, before taking the oath of office, when he pledged to deport two to three million immigrants he ludicrously characterized as “bad hombres”

“Deporting workers who pay taxes and contribute to the fabric of our communities is not an American value, it’s not a union value, and it’s not anything our union is going to support or assist in doing,” Appelbaum continued.

The Trump administration has further enraged at least half the nation with the announcement that his administration would unilaterally rescind DACA — the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program meant to shield some 800,000 children of undocumented emigres from deportation.

Hector Figueroa, head of 32BJ SEIU — the largest union of property service workers in the country with more than 163,000 members — said that workers’ rights go hand-in-hand with a just immigration system — “particularly in a context in which the Trump administration is demonizing and criminalizing immigrants and aggressively implementing an inhumane mass deportation strategy.”

“Other unions are also speaking up for their immigrant members and for immigrant rights in general,” Figueroa said this week. “This is the just and moral response and we hope that every single union and person in the labor movement will come together to stand up for our immigrant brothers and sisters. Speaking out publicly and creating real political pressure for immigration reform will help keep families together and give 11 million immigrants the pathway to citizenship they deserve.”

In addition to organizing and supporting immigrant workers, Teamsters JC 16 says it will also endeavor to include new protections for undocumented workers in its contracts with Teamster employers.

“Standing up for immigrants is part of standing up for workers,” Miranda continued. “Companies will take advantage of undocumented workers to drive down wages and safety standards for everyone. Politicians will promote racial resentment in order to divide workers and weaken the working class. Unions know that workers are strongest when we are united and it’s on us to strengthen that shared compassion and solidarity.”

Volunteers with the New Sanctuary Coalition — a group dedicated to supporting immigrant workers scooped by increasingly militant ICE agents — recently told LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz that unscrupulous bosses are already taking advantage of frightened immigrant workers fearful of deportation. Many of whom, are now even too afraid to go to their jobs.

“They’re scared that their bosses are going to take advantage of them, and what are they going to do?” Sara Gozalo  said. “Some of them don’t have papers. Some of them don’t have status. They’re fighting for status, but still don’t have it. And the rhetoric coming out of the [Trump] administration is giving power to take advantage of the most vulnerable in our country. We’re hearing more stories about bosses not paying money, bosses threatening to call immigration. The level of fear in New York City is incredibly sad.”

September 14, 2017

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