headline, Law and Politics, National

Unions Back Effort To Block Deportations; Create Pathways To Citizenship

March 13, 2019

By Steve Wishnia

WASHINGTON—Several major American unions have endorsed a bill introduced in the House March 12, that could protect more than 2 million people from deportation. 

Teamster Eber Garcia Vasquez with grandson.

The Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), sponsored by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), would enable two sketchily protected groups of immigrants to apply for legal residency and eventually full citizenship. The unions backing it include the Service Employees International Union and its 32BJ local, the Laborers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and several Teamsters locals, including New York’s Joint Council 16.

The bill would let the roughly 400,000 people granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of war or natural disaster in their native countries—primarily Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Haitians, as well as Liberians covered by Deferred Enforced Departure—apply for “green cards” giving them legal permanent resident status if they’d been here since the fall of 2016. That would enable them to apply for full citizenship five years later.

As many as 2.1 million undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, now tentatively protected from deportation by the DREAM Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), would be able to apply for “conditional legal status.” If they arrived here before they turned 18, don’t have a significant criminal record, and have either obtained a high-school diploma or GED or are in school for one, they could be granted that status for 10 years. They could then apply for a green card if they graduate college, serve in the military for two years, complete two years of college or trade school, or work for three years.

“Most of these immigrants have been living here legally in the U.S. for years, if not decades,” 32BJ President Hector Figueroa said in a statement. The union enthusiastically welcomes the bill, he added, because it “would finally provide them a path to citizenship in the nation they call home.”

Our immigrant members are a vital part of our union and we fully support this legislation to protect them and their families. The [Trump] administration’s attacks on immigrants only serve to upend lives and push undocumented workers into the shadows, which undermines the labor rights of all workers. We don’t want to see another one of our members deported. — Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda

“Our immigrant members are a vital part of our union and we fully support this legislation to protect them and their families,” Joint Council 16 President George Miranda said in a statement. “The administration’s attacks on immigrants only serve to upend lives and push undocumented workers into the shadows, which undermines the labor rights of all workers. We don’t want to see another one of our members deported.”

In September 2017, Teamsters member Eber Garcia Vasquez, 54, who had fled Guatemala’s military dictatorship in the late 1980s and been in Local 813 on Long Island for 26 years, was deported. He had argued that his wife was a U.S. citizen and he was in the process of applying for a green card, he was the only breadwinner for a family of five, and his life would be in danger if he returned to Guatemala. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told his lawyer there were “no compelling reasons” to let him stay.

Earlier that year, ICE deported 29-year-old Juan Vivares, who’d fled rural Colombia in 2011 after receiving death threats from right-wing paramilitary groups. Like Garcia Vasquez, he was married to a U.S. citizen, a 32BJ member, and they had a 14-month-old son.

Both were seized during periodic check-ins at ICE’s Manhattan offices.

Eber Garcia Vasquez (r) at work before his deportation.

The Laborers International Union of North America also endorsed the bill. “TPS holders and Dreamers have lived and worked in our country—building careers, paying mortgages, Social Security, and taxes—in some cases for 10, 15, or 20 years. The human cost of ordering them to return to unstable countries is incalculable,” General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement. “For the construction industry, the impacts are particularly dire, for as many as a third of TPS holders—including thousands of LIUNA members — work in the industry.”

United Food and Commercial Workers International Secretary-Treasurer Esther López called the bill “an important step toward providing stability for so many who have already passed background checks, pay taxes, go to school and work hard every day to build a better future for all of us.”

The Dream and Promise Act is likely to pass the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both praised it at the Capitol press conference announcing its introduction. 

Pelosi said she looked forward “to a strong bipartisan vote to pass this bill.” Its odds of passing the Senate or of not being vetoed by President Donald Trump, however, are about as low as the Knicks’ chances of making the National Basketball Association playoffs. None of its 130-odd cosponsors are Republicans.

Trump has attempted to eliminate all the immigrant-protection programs the bill would expand. He ordered DACA phased out in 2017, which would have cut off the ability to work and stay legally for about 675,000 people, but was blocked by federal courts. His revocation of TPS protection for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan has been also held up by the courts. He decided last March to phase out the deferral of deportation for Liberians. It will expire March 31.

Figueroa called those moves “cruel and senseless mass deportation schemes” based on “xenophobic politics of hatred and fear.” “We still desperately need to fix our entire broken immigration system and provide a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants,” he said. “But we cannot take that step forward until we stop these attempts to move backward by ending the legal status of so many of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.” 

March 13, 2019

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