New York, NY – The head of the largest proper service workers union in the country, this week, vowed to help eradicate ICE’s “deportation machine” after a union member who’s worked as a building porter on the Upper East Side for more than a decade, narrowly escaped being torn from his family and deported to West Africa.
ICE — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents reportedly used 48-year-old Baba Sillah’s 20-year-old arrest record as an unlicensed clothes vendor to seize him during a routine immigration appointment in Lower Manhattan on January 31, and then slate the Bronx father of five for deportation less than a month later.
But on Friday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped in and officially pardoned the 32BJ SEIU member for the vending infractions, clearing the way for Sillah to finally be reunited with his family and friends later in the evening.
During a noontime rally for Sillah outside ICE offices at 26 Federal Plaza, SEIU 32BJ President Hector Figueroa told members of the New York Hotel Trades Council, elected officials and immigrants rights advocates that immigration reform will be achieved.
“We’re gong to stop the funds and eradicate this deportation machine that is basically giving fuel to a broken immigration system,” Figueroa said. “All it does is go after working people. Baba is a worker. [His wife] Mamou is a worker. This assault on immigrant workers that are building our economy along with all other workers, has got to stop — and has to stop now.”
We’re gong to stop the funds and eradicate this deportation machine that is basically giving fuel to a broken immigration system. All it does is go after working people. — 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa
Earlier this week, a number of powerful unions, 32BJ SEIU among them, came out in support of the Dream and Promise Act [H.R.6] — a House bill aimed at protecting more than 2 million working people now vulnerable to deportation.
Union membership has not shielded immigrant workers from ICE. In 2017, Teamsters Local 813 member Eber Garcia Vasquez was arrested during a routine ICE check-in and deported to Guatemala. Just prior to that at another ICE check-in, 32BJ SEIU member Juan Vivares was taken into custody and deported to Columbia.
New York Hotel Trades President Peter Ward issued a statement praising Cuomo’s clemency in Sillah’s case.
“We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo for issuing this pardon today,” Ward said. “Baba Sillah and his wife Mamou are both hardworking union members doing their best to raise a family in New York City. They deserve to stay together, and Governor Cuomo’s pardon goes a long way toward helping them regain that fundamental dignity.”
According to New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, deportations are up over 150 percent since Donald Trump took office, and a great many of those targeted had no criminal record.
“They’re being picked up on the street, they’re being shoved into cars, they’re being spied on by the United States government. This is a crisis in our country,” the comptroller said on Friday.
New York City Council Member-Elect Jumaane Williams said ICE’s attempts at deporting Sillah are proof that the Trump administration’s immigration policies are based in “hate and bigotry.”
“Everything says that,” Williams told Sillah’s supporters. “Baba should be nowhere accept working and taking care of his family. You have robbed him of that. And I believe it is primarily based on where he comes from and the melanin in his skin.”
Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal [D-67th District] also denounced the Trump administration’s deportation policy as racist.
“Think of the trauma that’s happening to [Sillah’s children],” Rosenthal said. “Unfortunately, this administration doesn’t think about them. They don’t care about children and families — especially if they’re not white.”
To combat ICE’s deportation machine in New York City, Council Member Carlos Manchaca [D-38th District], chair of the Committee on Immigration, said that that city and its labor unions need to help fund and organize a machine of their own — one rooted in “love” and “compassion.”
“We are fighting a machine — a white supremacy machine rooted in values of hate, rooted in values to whiten America,” the council member said. “This deportation machine is not going to stop. The only thing we can do as a city…we need a system to fight back.”
Sillah’s spouse Mamou Drame thanked 32BJ SEIU, the New York Hotel Trades Council and the New Sanctuary Coalition for “getting us this far.”
“We are not asking for much, just that Baba be allowed to come home and continue the life we have built together,” Drame said.
Sillah’s porter job will be there waiting for him when he returns. Union officials told LaborPress on Friday that his position is, indeed, secure.
“We’re going to fight for Baba,” Figuroa added. “We’re going to fight for his kids to live the American Dream — but we’re not going to forget that this fight doesn’t end until we have immigration reform with a path to citizenship and the dismantling of this detention machine.”