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Walking to stay home: fighting for DREAMers and beyond with Maria Duarte and Omar Cisneros

March 5th was the deadline set by the Trump administration for the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protecting young immigrants. The deadline came and went without Congress acting, and around the country migrants and their allies held demonstrations demanding legislators take up the issue. I spoke with two young organizers from the Seed Project of Movimiento Cosecha.

 

MD: There’s lots of uncertainty everywhere, so we still took action on Monday because we thought it was very important to still show that although we can continue to renew those permits, we’re still in crisis, there’s still a lot of people who would have qualified for DACA and now can’t, there’s still so many young folks who didn’t qualify for DACA and need a clean DREAM Act. We decided to target Democrats specifically because time and time again we’ve seen that Democrats have the ability to help us, they have the power to help us. The government shutdown–that could have been prolonged, they could have had the results. And they chose not to help us. In 2010 we needed five more votes from Democrats to pass the DREAM Act. It didn’t happen. It’s become like a cycle of Democrats promising us something and continuing to just downplay our experience and our struggle as they continue to contribute to the attacks on our communities. The Obama administration deported three million people. Honestly as an undocumented person, I feel betrayed by the Democratic party and feel that they are only using us as a political gambling toy and it was time that we called them out on that and so we took action yesterday at the DNC and told them that our community will stop voting for them, our allies will stop voting for them if they don’t take action that’s actually tangible.

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Dreaming beyond the DREAM Act, with Kristian Hernandez

The Democrats gave in after just a few days of government shutdown, setting the stage for Trump to propose an immigration “compromise” that will do real harm to many under the guise of “helping” DREAMers. Where does the immigrants rights movement go from here? Kristian Hernandez of North Texas Dream Team and DSA North Texas joins me to talk about compromises, criminalization, and strategies for an election year.

There is definitely a lot of powerlessness that comes from the Democrats, that they seem to being going off of this “Well, we don’t have a majority here.” There are just a lot of excuses for why they can’t advance in the realm of immigration. They tend to, also, come back to it, especially during times like the primaries and during election season. They have this notion that their base is assuaged by this centrist viewpoint on immigration, when really you are finding more and more people being maybe a lot more aware of the horrors that the immigration system is actually doing because people, especially during the Obama administration, may have gone with the damaging rhetoric of “felons not families” but not realizing that when you have an administration that has very effectively criminalized communities of color, you are deporting a lot more people than felons.
You are deporting people that are caught up in that collateral web and going forward from that, we know that the system works against our communities. Even going off of that really dangerous rhetoric of “Well, we are only deporting criminals” is really this false lie. It is throwing one group of immigrants under the bus for the sake of another when a lot of us who have that deeper understanding that they are making us criminals on paper by putting us into this system that punishes you if you are poor. It punishes you twice over and makes you a criminal. There are a lot of false guilty pleas and really just a whole very complex way that the criminal justice system is intertwined with immigration.

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Permanent protections instead of temporary status, with Jaime Contreras


Trump has now revoked temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from four countries, the latest being El Salvador. Some 200,000 Salvadorans have come to the US fleeing civil war, earthquakes, and gang violence under this status, but now the administration demands they go home. SEIU 32BJ, the building service workers union, has 100,000 Salvadoran members, many of whom relied on TPS to work in the US. Jaime Contreras, a vice-president with the union and a Salvadoran immigrant himself, explains what the TPS policy has meant to people like his family and what the union is doing to protect its members and pressure Congress to fix the immigration system.

To me, this didn’t come as a surprise. We all heard the rhetoric during the campaign from this president. We knew it was coming. If there is one thing different between the Republicans and the Democrats it is Republicans say what they are going to do and they do it. Democrats, it is the ever-frustrating part where you say you are going to do something and then you do something opposite. Republicans at least stick to their guns and [Laughs] do what they said they were going to do. It is unfortunate. A lot of people were hoping it was only going to be rhetoric, but it is not a surprise.
You asked earlier “What are we going to do and how are we going to get ourselves organized?” SEIU and the rest of the labor movement, along with churches, community organizations, even the business community… The Chamber of Commerce is against eliminating TPS. Obviously, they weren’t heard. Now it is in the hands of Congress. Congress has to act and fix DACA, fix TPS, and allow these people to continue living in the United States as they have been. A lot of these people, like I said, they own homes, some of them are business owners, they have US-born children, they have roots here. They have roots here. You can’t uproot people who have been here for over two decades just like that. It is just not the American thing to do. So, we are going to be lobbying Congress and demanding they fix this problem once and for all for these people who really should be US citizens by now, if they were allowed the opportunity to do that.

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Launching the new Poor People’s Campaign with Rev. Emily McNeill


When Martin Luther King Jr. died, he was in the middle of building the Poor People’s Campaign–a multiracial endeavor challenging America’s persistent class divide. But the campaign was left unfinished, and the class divide has only gotten worse and will continue to do so under the latest policy from the Republican Congress, a massive package of tax cuts for the rich and tax hikes for everyone else. So a group of organizers and faith leaders is coming together to finish the work that King started and launching the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Rev. Emily McNeill is part of that campaign in New York State, and also director of the Labor Religion Coalition in New York, and she looks back on the year that was and forward to the campaign coming up.

I think that is a really important aspect of the campaign and it is intentional—to be pushing back on this myth that we all could raise ourselves up by our bootstraps and just continue to accumulate and become rich. It has obviously never been a reality in the history of the United States. But, there is also this history of people on the bottom, in all sorts of ways, coming together and organizing and claiming their identity.
One of the explicit goals of this phase of the campaign is about changing the moral narrative of all these issues; around racism and poverty and militarism and ecological devastation. Part of the narrative that the campaign wants to shift is that being poor is something to be ashamed of and instead to say, “No, poverty is something that our society should be ashamed of. We have nothing to be ashamed of if we are not making ends meet because there are structural reasons for that and people are getting rich off the fact that we are poor.” To claim that, that “We have nothing to be ashamed of, the people that are perpetuating the system are the ones who should be ashamed” is a big part of the messaging that we want to get through to people.
That is what comes across in the testimonies that the campaign has already been putting out from directly impacted folks from around the country, people standing up and saying, “There is nothing wrong with me. I am not…” There is a great video from this young woman who was part of the launch event. She is from Grays Harbor in Washington State and talking about, “I was homeless not because I am lazy, but because society doesn’t have any problem with me being homeless” and just really naming that she is not ashamed and she has no reason to be ashamed to be poor.

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Down to the wire to stop the tax scam, with Sarah Chaisson-Warner and Jessica Juarez Scruggs

The Republicans think they have the votes to pass their massive tax cut package. But their constituents aren’t done fighting. From Kittery, ME to Nashville, TN and elsewhere around the country, groups are marching, sitting in, and even rewriting Christmas carols around the themes of upward wealth transfer. Sarah Chaisson-Warner and Jessica Juarez Scruggs of People’s Action talk about what’s in the bill, who’s still fighting to stop it, what can be done, and what happens next–including a preview of what to expect from election season in 2018 and some thoughts about what’s been surprising in 2017.

SCW: We’re still working to influence some of our targets in the Senate and the House. We do anticipate that they will probably vote this week or want to vote this week, Tuesday or Wednesday, so it’s coming up quite quickly, in the Senate we did hear over the weekend that Sen. Corker had shifted his vote, although that does not mean that the people of Tennessee will not be out this week. In Nashville, our affiliate is actually working with some of their allies as we speak to plan actions around that flip of the vote. Our affiliate in Maine continues to work hard on Sen. Collins, and we know that there are many House members who don’t support this bill or have some reservations about this bill. Members who are concerned about the repeal of the individual mandate and have real deeply invested concerns about healthcare. We have some members who have some concerns about the SALT provision, and others who are just a little uncomfortable with the bill and how quickly it’s moved and the cost of the bill.
So we will continue to work in largely Republican districts this week and should they vote on the bill this week our affiliates are ramping up for rapid response and again, if they vote, if they pass this bill, it will not be quiet in the states, it will not be quiet in the field, people are angry about this, no one wants this bill to pass, you see it in the polls, and we will be out in the streets and in the news and everywhere else showing members of Congress that this was the wrong decision.

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Putting trickle-down cash into the contract, with Jody Calemine

Trump says his tax cuts will give every American a $4000 raise. But American labor unions have been burned by trickle-down claims for decades, because the wealth has just been zooming upward faster and faster. So when Trump made his promise, the Communications Workers of America told corporations: “Put it in the contract.” The union opposes the tax bill, which will hit many members with tax increases, but if it’s going to be forced to swallow more trickle-down policy, says general counsel Jody Calemine, then the companies getting the big breaks need to pony up the cash to make it up to their workers.

As far as I know, we have never responded in such a direct way before. The promises made by this White House are so specific about what the outcome would be that it simply spurred us to try and hold them to this promise and got to our employers and ask them to sign. There is another specific promise that these guys made, on Paul Ryan’s website in big letters, that this tax bill is going to prevent the off-shoring of jobs. That is a big issue for us. We have been fighting off-shoring for a long time. It is what the Verizon strike up and down the east coast last year was all about. They are saying this is going to prevent off-shoring? Then, we are going to our employers and in these contract proposals, there is a second provision. It says “So long as this tax bill is in effect, they will not off-shore work. New jobs will be created here rather than overseas and work that is here isn’t going to move overseas.”
Again, just like the wage increase, this is something entirely within these corporations control. Based on the tax savings they are going to enjoy under this tax bill, they get to decide what they are going to do with it. The politicians are saying, “This is what will be done with it. That is why working people should support this bill.” So, we are going to those employers and saying, “Is that, in fact, true?” and we haven’t gotten a response.

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From the Fight for $15 to city council, with Stephanie Gasca


Stephanie Gasca is one of many people this year moving from social movement, community, and labor organizing work into campaigning for office. She got her start with the Fight for $15, and works for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, which translates to Center for Workers United in Struggle, a worker center that helped bring Target to the negotiating table for retail janitors with several years of strikes. Now she’s running for a city council seat to make sure that the communities where she lives and works are represented by people who understand their struggles against state violence, against poverty wages, against racism and a vicious immigration system.

I am a mother first and foremost. I have a 14-year-old black son that I am raising here in North Minneapolis where the police have killed black men before, where the police harass our black youth on a regular basis. My politics are automatically different because of my life experiences.
Because of my background and where I come from and being one of nine children and having my step-dad being impacted by the broken immigration system and having our family being hit by poverty wages and a lack of access to education and opportunities and having my mom being impacted by not having paid sick leave, all of these things, all of these disparities, all of these specifics that everyone loves to go on about the numbers and this and this and that, that is my real life. I have a brother who just came home from federal prison in August who I am trying to support right now, helping him and ensuring that he gets a job and ensuring that he has access to the resources that he needs so that he is successful at re-entry and that he is not trapped by the system, because the system is designed to slap folks with a felony and they just keep them going back into the system.
When we talk about children being highly mobile, my niece is living with me right now who hasn’t had stable housing in 5 years because my sister cannot afford the rising cost of rent. All of these things that we talk about, I am living them every single day. So, my politics are automatically different because this is my life. These aren’t reports that I am reading. These aren’t statistics that I am looking at. This is my life and it is about a fight for my survival. It is about the fight for the survival of my family and my community. That is how I always approach my work because that is what it is. I can’t approach it any other way.

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Turning up for DACA recipients, with Ricardo Aca

Ricardo Aca has renewed his DACA several times and in the lead-up to the deadline imposed by Trump’s rescinding of the policy allowing immigrants who arrived as children to remain in the U.S. he divided his time between helping young people renew their status and demanding that members of Congress step up and pass a DREAM Act to give them legal status. But it’s not just young people who came here as children who should be allowed to stay, he argues–it’s time for the U.S. to recognize the status of all immigrants.

We struggled a lot to get to where we are today. Even this label Dreamers, which we kind of no longer want to be associated with, because at the end of the day we are the representations of our parents who are the original Dreamers and people need to know that. That is also part of the reason why we are asking for a clean DREAM Act where we deserve to be here, but also, our parents deserve to be here. We don’t want to compromise our future because we don’t want to be separated from them who are just as important as we are. We are the representation of them because they wanted us to get a better education, they wanted us to have better jobs, which we do have. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the work of our parents. That is something that people don’t really know in this narrative. People think of our parents should be considered criminals because they broke the law, but they don’t know what it is like to come from somewhere like Mexico or Venezuela or Colombia where there is a lot of political struggle. They don’t know what it is like to be living in this country where you don’t have access to resources, you don’t have access to education, you don’t feel safe, there are drug cartels. People need to know that there is a reason why we came here and now that we are here, this is where we consider our home and this is where we want to be.

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Creating a sanctuary union, with George Miranda

Eber Garcia Vasquez had been a New York City Teamster for 26 years when he was deported on September 6th. His union fought to keep him here, but when their campaign was unsuccessful, Teamsters Joint Council 16 moved to ensure that this happens to no one else. The union’s declaration that it would be a “sanctuary union,” explains Joint Council 16 president George Miranda, means education, bargaining, and refusal to cooperate with ICE.

Immigrant rights and labor rights are explicitly tied together. You can’t have one without the other. If you lose on one issue, whether it is immigrants or the labor, you lose the other. It is obvious that we are tied together and there is no way that we could say that we are not a union of immigrants. It seems to us that we need to protect our members. We are all immigrants, but we need to protect our members more than ever now since this administration has taken the position that they have taken on immigrants.

So we have decided to be a sanctuary union, meaning that we protect our members. They are working, they are earning their living, they are supporting their families, and they are not doing anything that is criminal or whatever, we are not going to cooperate with the immigration service whatsoever in going after our members. We are going to indoctrinate our members and help them with attorneys and whatever other expertise they need in order to protect them and their families and, hopefully, get them out of the mess that they may find themselves in.

That is what sanctuary unions mean. We are going to indoctrinate all of our members, all our stewards as to exactly what that means.

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Defending DACA, with Alan and Renee


On Tuesday, September 5, the Trump administration announced a “phase-out” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), program for immigrant youth. This decision leaves hundreds of thousands of young people vulnerable to deportation—young people who voluntarily gave the government personal information about themselves in order to gain protections in the first place. Around the country, emergency protest rallies were held. In Kingston, New York, outside of the office of newly-elected Republican Congressman John Faso, I spoke with two immigrant organizers about the decision to revoke DACA and the struggle for justice for immigrants.

The fee is around $465, that includes biometrics, and applying for a work permit. We pay basically for everything, there’s no fee waivers, nothing like that. Maybe for residents, to become citizens there are waivers but for DACA there’s nothing. There’s 800,000 DACA recipients, and that’s just lowballing, if you do the math, 800,000 times $465 comes out to be $400 million. That’s a lot of money into the economy. That’s not counting when you go purchase a car, that’s not counting when you go to get a driver’s license, paying taxes.
We did that. We had to ask people for money because we didn’t have $465, it’s a lot of money for a low-income household.
They have to really understand our struggle in order for them to do something about it. Everybody says “Oh, just apply for citizenship.” But there’s no path for that. They don’t know how hard it is. They keep telling me “just be a legal resident,” they don’t know how hard that is. Especially now that the fees are going up. The fees are going up even to become a citizen, $300 more, to become a legal resident it’s $300 more. They’re making money off immigrants, that’s why I think they want to keep it at that level, to get money from us.

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