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Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Immigration Organizing Social Justice

Watch: May Day Forum with Gerry Hudson

On May Day 2022, Voices for New Democracy hosted SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Gerry Hudson for a discussion on the state of the American labor movement. Throughout the conversation, Gerry discussed his history at 1199SEIU, outlining how the union’s participation in struggles for racial justice and immigrant justice mobilized membership and helped secure important victories; how 1199’s emphasis on rank-and-file organizing and leadership was key to their strength; and what lessons these experiences hold for today’s wave of union organizing across gig workers, Amazon workers, delivery drivers, Starbucks workers, and more. Gerry also reflected on SEIU’s political mobilization around the 2020 elections — playing an important role in Biden’s victory — and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in 2022 and 2024.

Watch the full forum below.

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Commentary Immigration Organizing Social Justice

Comment on the Biden Administration’s Continued Support of Trump-Era Immigration Title 42 and Remain in Mexico Policies

| José Z. Calderón |

Biden could have broken with Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and allowed anyone who wished to apply for asylum to be able to do so at a port of entry and increase the possibilities of immigrants from Central America and from places like Haiti to obtain lawful employment (through such measures as H-2B visas).

Instead, the Biden administration has kept in place a Trump-era policy, Title 42, which does the opposite by indefinitely closing the border to “nonessential travel” (to supposedly “limit the spread of the coronavirus”) and increases the deportation of those who are seeking work or who are seeking to apply for asylum. Title 42, under both the Trump administration and now under Biden, allows for the Border Patrol to decide who can enter the process of asylum and who cannot. As a result, in the last year, border authorities applied Title 42 to more than 80% of encounters with immigrants resulting in 530,000 expulsions of which 16,000 were children migrating alone and 34,000 children-plus parents. Adding to the number of expulsions, the Biden administration has moved on speeding up deportations of some migrant families through “expedited removal,” allowing for ICE to deport them without a hearing before an immigration judge.  

In this light, our organizing efforts, in addition to supporting DACA and Temporary Protective Status measures, has to include a halt to the contradictory government policies of Title 42 and a call for humane refugee asylum policies. 

Along these same lines, it is important to organize against the Biden administration’s reinstating of a Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, that is part of a deal struck with the Mexican government forcing asylum seekers to stay in that country until their U.S. immigration court date. Under this policy, about 70,000 immigrants have been returned to Mexico. Although the Biden administration justifies its actions by claiming that it is only following court orders, that it is applying “humanitarian speed-ups” of court proceedings of migrants and refugees, and that it is providing avenues for access to legal counsel, there is no getting around that the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policies are resulting in mass deportations and inhumane treatment. There are thousands of immigrants, seeking protection from increased violence in their home countries, who are being deported back to areas where they are met with brutal attacks and kidnappings perpetrated by deadly cartels and corrupt officials.  For instance, according to Human Rights First, there were at least 1,544 publicly documented cases of rape, kidnapping, assault, and other crimes committed against individuals sent back under these policies this last year. 

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris has been assigned to focus on the “root” causes of migration in Latin America, announcing that the plan will deal with issues of  economic insecurity and inequality, combating democratic corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. 

While some of us in the immigrant rights movement have promoted policies that would focus on changing the economic conditions in the sending countries that are forcing so many to migrate here, the reality is that they are meaningless in this time period when there is a need to prioritize the passage and implementation of pro-immigrant legislation here in the U. S.  These gestures by Kamala Harris, focused on the conditions abroad, affect very little in the immediate and, with the Republicans already making immigration a central issue, the prospects for building the kind of movement that is needed to ensure the defeat of the right in the mid-term elections is further damaged.

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Analysis Immigration Organizing Social Justice

Movement Building is Essential to Advance Immigration Reform

| Kent Wong |

This article will appear in the next issue of the New Labor Forum.

Fundamentally, we need to build an immigrant rights movement to create the change we need.   Reliance on the Democratic Party or on policy formulations alone will never result in meaningful change unless we can successfully build a movement led by immigrant workers and immigrant youth.   

The Obama-Biden administration was responsible for more than two million deportations, the worst record in U.S. history.  During his 2020 presidential election campaign, Biden promised immigration reform within his first year in office.  Not only do those promises remain unfulfilled, but unfortunately, Biden has maintained some of the repressive anti-immigrant policies implemented by Trump.

We support the necessity of building a broad-based alliance to advance meaningful immigration reform.  The alliance must include undocumented immigrants themselves, the labor movement, African Americans, youth and students, environmentalists, and the faith-based community.  

While we obviously supported the Biden-Harris ticket, and celebrate the end of the horrific Trump administration, we should not be surprised about Biden’s lukewarm commitment to immigration reform in light of his track record.  The Biden administration will only do the right thing if there is a strong movement demanding change.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was one of the few immigrant rights victories that was won during the Obama-Biden administration.  DACA was a breakthrough in providing a relief to more than 800,000 immigrant youth who otherwise would still live under the constant fear of deportation and would not be able to legally work.  

The immigrant youth movement played a decisive role in securing one of the few immigration reform victories under the Obama-Biden administration.  Yet it is important to note that DACA was not prioritized or actively supported by major immigrant rights organizations.  Even the Federal DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was not a priority of major immigrant rights organizations, because of their fear that if the DREAM Act moved forward as a stand-alone bill, this would undermine the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.  

We strongly disagree with this analysis and approach.  The one-sided push for comprehensive immigration reform and reliance on the Democratic Party has been a failed strategy, that has effectively yielded nothing. 

The right wing understands the benefit of incremental change on immigration.  They have tried to secure anti-immigration victories wherever and whenever possible, at a federal, state, and local level.  They have built an anti-immigrant movement grounded in racism and nativism, and have used the anti-immigrant issue to mobilize their primarily white constituency at the ballot box.

Instead of relying the Democratic Party, we believe that we must focus our energies on movement building.  And two major movements that have helped to shift the national debate on immigrant rights are the immigrant workers movement, and the immigrant youth movement.  We would benefit from deepening an understanding of the role of each, in order to confront the challenges ahead. 

Immigrant Workers Movement

The U.S. labor movement has a decidedly mixed history when it comes to immigration reform.  From their support of the passage of the racist Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, U.S. labor has historically embraced anti-immigrant policies.  During the last major immigration legislation passed by Congress, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, labor advocated for employer sanctions to impose civil and criminal penalties for employers who knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.  They erroneously believed that this would safeguard jobs for U.S.-born workers. 

Employer Sanctions has been a disaster that has done little to nothing to punish employers for hiring undocumented immigrants.  Instead, employer sanctions have caused great to harm to undocumented immigrants who been viciously exploited with little legal recourse, and driven further into the underground economy.  

The emergence of the immigrant workers movement was a powerful force that helped to reinvigorate parts of the U.S. labor movement, and harness the power of a new generation of predominantly Latino immigrant workers to transform parts of the labor movement.  In Los Angeles, the legendary Justice for Janitors Movement and the organizing of the Hotel Workers under the leadership of Maria Elena Durazo represented historic breakthroughs in not only immigrant worker organizing, but the embrace of social movement unionism.  The victory of the Home Care workers, led for years by black women, also greatly diversified the labor movement of California and brought more women, people of color, and low wage immigrant workers into the labor movement than any other organizing campaign in decades.

The national debate on the AFL-CIO policy on immigration came to a head during the 1999 convention held in Los Angeles.  On the opening day of the convention, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor organized a march within the convention hall with hundreds of recently organized immigrant workers of color.  The marchers jumped on to the podium where the largely aging, white male AFL-CIO Executive Council was seated, dramatically contrasting two distinct parts of the labor movement.  A remarkable change in the AFL-CIO immigration policy came the following year, in 2000, led by a progressive coalition of key unions including UNITE-HERE, SEIU, UFCW, and the United Farmworkers of America. For the first time, the AFL-CIO lined up on the right side of history on immigration, calling for full rights and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

In 2003, UNITE HERE launched the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride, a series of national bus tours that drew on the tradition of the Civil Rights movement.  In states and cities throughout the country, the Freedom Ride built union and community alliances with a movement-building orientation.  Congressman John Lewis and Rev. James Lawson Jr. worked with the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride to connect the emerging immigrant rights movement with veterans from the Civil Rights movement from decades before. 

In 2006, the largest May Day marches in U.S. history held in dozens of cities across the country were organized to respond to draconian anti-immigrant legislation in Congress.  It was a profound reflection of the power of the immigrant workers movement, that successfully led to the defeat of the pending legislation.  Ironically, the largest May Day in U.S. history was not led by the U.S. labor movement, but by immigrant workers themselves.  In fact, some conservative union leaders watched from the sidelines, refusing to support the just demands of immigrant workers to end deportations and for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

The election of Tefere Gebre as the AFL-CIO Executive Vice President in 2013 was a breakthrough.  For the first time in history, a black immigrant and political refugee became one of the top officers of the U.S. labor movement.  Gebre was previously the leader of the Orange County Federation of Labor, where he mobilized the power of immigrant workers to not only reinvigorate the labor movement, but to change the political landscape.   Orange County in 2016 voted for a Democrat for President for the first time since the 1930’s, and in 2018 Democrats swept the entire Congressional delegation in what was previously a bastion of right-wing politics.  

In 2021, Liz Schuler was elected as the first woman President in AFL-CIO history.  Currently, her two other national officers are black men, another historic first.  The first leadership team of women and people of color within the AFL-CIO could change the national political environment through building a grassroots movement to support immigration reform.  

Immigrant Youth Movement

Immigrant youth have been at the forefront of securing meaningful immigration policy victories over the last decade. Though immigrant youth have been organizing for a long time, the year 2010 was a game changer. 

In May of 2010, five undocumented youth held a nonviolent sit-in at the office of Senator and former presidential-candidate John McCain, risking arrest and deportation.  This courageous act exposed McCain’s political opportunism as a Senate leader who had previously co-sponsored the DREAM Act, yet instead withdrew his support to align with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  

In the coming months, immigrant youth engaged in unprecedented activism from hunger strikes in Los Angeles and Texas, a 1,500 mile march on-foot from Florida to Washington known as the “Trail of Dreams,” a “Dream Freedom Ride” caravan from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., and many other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience. The emergence of United We Dream, a national coalition of undocumented youth organizations, as well as “Dream Teams” of undocumented activists in states and cities across the country set the foundation for a new immigrant youth movement. 

For more than twenty years, the DREAM Act, overwhelmingly supported by the public, has been blocked in Congress.  The DREAM Act could provide a pathway to citizenship for qualifying immigrant youth and could change their lives, as well as the lives of their families and their communities. Despite the tremendous efforts made by immigrant youth, the DREAM Act was unable to get through the Senate because of a threatened filibuster in December of 2010. This was a bipartisan failure.  A handful of Democrats voted against it, while some senators like John McCain and Joe Manchin, did not even show up to vote. As heartbreaking as this loss was, immigrant youth did not give up. Instead, they directed their attention to other efforts that could harness their energy and collective power.

The failure of the DREAM Act in December 2010, was the impetus for the launch of “Dream Summer” in 2011. Dream Summer is the first and only national fellowship program run by and for immigrant youth, launched by the UCLA Labor Center with support of United We Dream. The program aims to empower the next generation of social justice leaders by providing leadership and professional development opportunities to immigrant youth that embraces an intersectional, intergenerational, cross-racial approach. In its first year, the program received over 1,000 applications from eager immigrant youth that were ready to join the movement.  Since its founding, the Dream Resource Center (DRC) of the UCLA Labor Center has emerged as a national source for innovative research, education, leadership development and policy on immigration issues. 

Dream Summer centers the immigrant youth voice in local and national conversations that directly impact them in order to achieve representation, opportunity, and justice for immigrant communities. Over the past ten years, Dream Summer has played a pivotal role in developing immigrant youth leaders who have secured legislative victories such as the California Dream Act, DACA, and Health4AllKids in California. 

In 2011, immigrant youth organized actions across the state of California to secure the passage of the California Dream Act, which for the past decade has provided tens of thousands of immigrant youth access to state financial aid for eligible undocumented Californians. Between 2016 – 2017 alone, more than 54,000 California immigrant youth applied for the California Dream Act. 

Undocumented immigrant youth, many of them leaders of Dream Summer such as Neidi Dominguez and Ju Hong, were instrumental in advancing a national strategy to push President Obama to introduce Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. Today, over 800,000 immigrant youth have been able to work and have protection from deportation as a result of this victory. 

In 2013, Dream Summer launched the Health Ambassadors Fellowship. The late Beatriz Solis from The California Endowment led the effort to support 114 immigrant youth to work at the intersections of health and immigration. The Dream Summer fellows produced a  series of reports entitled, Undocumented and Uninsured, which informed policymakers about the need for health care for all Californians, regardless of legal status. In 2015, California passed Health4All Kids, which expanded full-scope medical to low-income children under the age of 19, regardless of immigration status. Most recently, immigrant youth were also key in securing the passage of the California Values Act, which limits collaboration between law enforcement and immigration officials in the detention and deportation process.

2021 marked the 10th anniversary of Dream Summer. Since its inception, more than 820 immigrant youth from across the country have participated in the program. Dream Summer has also developed partnerships with over 265 social justice organizations. Many Dream Summer alumni have gone off to hold leadership positions in various national, state and local social justice organizations. Undocumented immigrant youth continue to be at the forefront of the fight for immigrant justice.

Movement building is essential to advance Immigration reform.  Unfortunately, some immigrant rights organizations speak on behalf of undocumented immigrants, while not promoting undocumented immigrants in key leadership positions. This is problematic, and has contributed to a failure to focus on movement building and a commitment to undocumented immigrant empowerment.  History teaches us that we must build the immigrant workers movement and the immigrant youth movement to secure meaningful immigration reform.

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Analysis Ecological Justice Environmental Justice Global Peace & Collaboration Immigration Social Justice

Mass Migration, Land Back and a Sustainable Earth

| Steve Clark |

At long last, our world seems to have accepted the reality of climate change and the devastation it portends. But, we still have a long way to go in assessing, much less implementing, an effective global response. 

Inevitably, the struggle for programmatic clarity unfolds against the backdrop of long-entrenched corporate domination of the key entities – the IMF and most of today’s nation-states — that might do something about it.  These cautious and self-interested perspectives controlled the agenda at the recent COP26 climate conference in Glascow. Outside the conference, however, more thoughtful voices are beginning to be heard.

“US immigration policy is harsh and xenophobic, but it’s also rear-looking and stupid,” says (I paraphrase) Parag Khanna, author of Move: The Forces Uprooting Us

Khanna was interviewed November 20 on the MMT-themed Macro ‘n Cheese podcast by regular host Steve Grumbine.

In world system geographer Khanna’s mind, climate change will impose adaptations on civilization that, unfortunately, the recent COP26 conference barely mentioned. Anticipating the conference’s stance, he says, it will focus on mitigations to “virtue signal” that “we can do this, world.”

That’s what it did, but that’s not good enough, says Khanna. Instead, he is laser-focused on one imposing, yet well-ignored adaptation: mass migration. Already unfolding and irreversible – just like climate change, itself – mass migration can be ignored only at civilization’s peril. 

This is because, as climate change deepens and imposes its will, a great swath of the places where people live today will become increasingly uninhabitable.  This devastation of ancient, previously-productive habitats distresses the Global South and indigenous people far more than the “modern” societies of the Global North. According to Khanna, mitigation efforts must, of course, be deployed, but they won’t be adequate to prevent the impending catastrophe in the South. Independent of our will and efforts, our warming earth is going to make life for humans in equatorial regions difficult and sparse. Adapting to that reality, mass migration from South to North is vital, but unfortunately, excruciatingly difficult. 

While tragic in so many ways, this inevitable migration, Khanna avers, is also a “silver bullet.” For people of the Global South, it provides a place to go to sustain families and build new lives. And for nations in the North that are already at or near zero population growth, migration provides the younger workforce that these aging societies can’t do without. 

In Khanna’s prophecy, mass migration serves both North and South and helps get humanity to the other side of its ecological nightmare. In stark contrast, the indigenous radicals behind The Red Deal say mass migration (social displacement) is just the latest and greatest catastrophe imposed on Nature and native people by capitalism and settler colonialism. “Land Back!” is their demand. They insist on full indigenous control of natural resource management everywhere because, without such strategic (anti-capitalist, anti-colonial) oversight and guidance, human life – indeed, all life – is in jeopardy.

To indigenous people, the earth – just like the water, animals, plants and other people – is a “relative” and, like all relatives, must be treated with care, justice and opportunity. Relative-care is the only way to save our planet from the destruction of capitalist exploitation. Thus, indigenous people look forward to managing the earth’s fragile, climate-ravaged, equatorial regions, and they will endure whatever hardship is necessary to restore their wounded relative — the earth. But for this, indigenous people expect nothing less than the decisive voice in civilization’s long-range, natural resource management agenda (aka, the Green New Deal) as well as all the resources necessary to mitigate and abate the crisis wherever it exists or emerges. In the meantime, indigenous people expect the right to emigrate and to be welcomed wherever they choose (or are forced) to go.

Today’s ill-conceived US immigration policy erects walls against the very workforce the nation needs for its own survival. Biden-Harris take note. A good policy would encourage immigration and a path to citizenship. Khanna cites Canada and Kazakhstan as nations that have sound immigration and citizenship programs and stand to prosper as people and production move north through the 21st century. After traveling extensively in Russia (where global warming is creating vast regions of newly arable land), he also reports rising interest in the Russian hinterland for a more welcoming immigration policy. The US, meanwhile, stands to lose substantially if it does not ease its anti-immigrant policies and correct its white-supremacist fringe.

Khanna acknowledges but doesn’t much concern himself with the injustice that, “once again,” hits the Global South far worse than the North. In his brief allowance that mitigations (as well as adaptations) must be deployed, Khanna expresses solidarity with those seeking redress of imperialism’s unjust equatorial legacy, yet he stresses the inevitability and redeeming worth of mass migration and, accordingly, urges an “incremental evolution” in anti-imperialist demands. He does not so much as mention “indigenous rights” or “indigenous authority,” apparently presuming that existing means of natural resource management and allocation can be adequately reformed within the framework of evolving but on-going capitalism and nation-state authority. He also never mentions socialism or any transformational vision of mainstream production and exchange.

His omission of indigenous impacts and other class dynamics is hardly unexpected given the white, settler, colonial blind spots of Western imperialism and the academics within. It is a major, ideological shortcoming but should not disqualify Khanna’s factual point that – depending on various geographic factors (resources, borders, infrastructure and people) – climate change is already having uneven and divergent impacts that will make life easier and more sustainable in northern regions than in southern. Sound public policy will ground itself in this reality.

Khanna also anticipates sharpening competition between the US and China because both are competing for younger workers, yet both are rather xenophobic. He says that China, with a younger domestic workforce, was ascendant as the (post-Soviet) global economy took shape in recent decades – and was more nimble with state finances than the West. But, going forward (post-pandemic), it will endure strong competition as all economies seek to add (restore) local production and commercial circulation against the pandemic-made-apparent danger of over-reliance on global supply chains. Diversification and localization are the now the rising trend. China’s share of global trade is bound to shrink. He notes that Cuba and Viet Nam (among others) evidence sound practice in endogenous self-sufficiency. In contrast, he lists Norway and other Scandinavian countries that, despite their welcoming social perspective, cast a heavy global footprint due to their national reliance on oil revenue.

The divergence in viewpoint between Khanna and the Red Nation reveals the depth that the present climate change discourse must still fathom. It’s a deep and wide chasm, but with only a decade or less to figure it out, a much intensified debate and a re-tooled strategy is indispensable. Who is going to lead us to salvation… the corporate sector with its financial and technological “fixes” or indigenous people at the head of a popular, global movement? Time is short; we need to get this right, and we need to do it soon. 

The podcast is titled: Mapping the Future of Humanity with Parag Khanna. It runs 1 hr 7 min.

The Red Deal, Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth (2020) is an ebook by the Red Nation, a revolutionary collective of native people.

This essay was published concurrently in GlobalTalk.

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Analysis Commentary Economic Justice Immigration Social Justice

Commentary: The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism

This post offers commentary on the article, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” written by Suyapa Portillo Villeda and Miguel Tinker Salas, and recently published in Jacobin. Read the full piece here.

Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala as part of a series of foreign policy meetings regarding Central American migration. But despite the Biden administration’s promises to close the chapter on Trump-era policies by welcoming immigrants and building a more just immigration system, Harris quickly indicated that tight border restrictions are here to stay. Speaking to migrants in Central America, Harris’s message was explicit: “Do not come. Do not come.”

While Harris’s trip was ostensibly meant to begin discussions with foreign leaders around addressing the “root causes” of Central American migration, the overarching message she conveyed was that the United States will turn you back at the border if you try to come. (It’s worth noting that this is legally dubious; all migrants have a right to seek asylum at the US border under existing immigration law.) And even when discussing the “root causes” of migration, Harris continued to disappoint, focusing primarily on issues of corruption and lack of economic opportunity. As many immediately pointed out, Harris failed to recognize that the United States itself has long been one of the key actors animating these “root causes” in the first place.

In a recent Voices for New Democracy forum, scholar Miguel Tinker Salas discussed the United States’ historic record of involvement in Central America and how it continues to animate migration patterns today. He also recently published a new piece with the scholar Suyapa Portillo Villeda in Jacobin magazine elaborating on these issues in the context of the controversy Harris has provoked.

Does anyone believe that promoting “economic development” by expanding the presence of foreign companies in Central America will slow immigration? Does anyone believe that callously declaring “Do not come” will improve the lot of would-be migrants?

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/06/kamala-harris-central-america-guatemala-visit-us-imperialism

Throughout the last century, they argue, the United States has been deeply involved in shaping a neocolonial reality in Central America, as the American economy relies heavily on cheap Central American labor. With this history in mind, Harris’s gestures towards expanding economic opportunity ring hollow – another justification for American-led development and economic policy more likely to favor multinational corporations than potential migrant populations. Ultimately, if we want to get serious about root causes, we must begin with US empire.

Read the full piece, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” via Jacobin.

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Commentary Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Long Live the Day Laborers!

The following is a speech by Professor José Calderón Clausura of the José Fernando Pedraza Institute, which was originally published in Popular Education Liberates.

The development of the National Day laborer Organizing Network, Radio Jornalera, and this Institute, are very close to my heart.

I was part of the start of the Day Labor Center in Pomona in 1997. At that time the City Council passed a law that, if implemented, would have fined each day laborer $1,500 just for looking for work on the street. We responded with a march and filled the Council with hundreds of people. Out of this organizing, the city council rescinded the unjust ordinance and agreed to help support the development of the Pomona Day Labor center.

I was also part of the beginning of the National Day Labor Organizing Network alongside twelve organizations at a conference held at Cal State Northridge in July 2001.

I have to tell you that my commitment – my passion – in support of these struggles came from the fact that I was an immigrant from Mexico, that came to this country when I was 7 years old with my parents – who were farmworkers their entire lives in Colorado and with my father who was a day laborer in the winters, waiting on the corners, even when there was snow, for a job so that we could eat. I never forgot – and when I graduated from college, I went to work for a while with the United Farmworkers Union of Cesar Chavez in Delano, CA – and when I returned to Colorado with my parents, I started a little school in the back of my parents’ house – and I have to tell you, I started teaching 18 students who did not know English in the same way that you are using the Paulo Freire and Popular Education method.

And I must also share with you today that there is no better way to honor the life of José Fernando Pedraza, than with the development of this Instituto, because truly, Fernando was an example of the development of a consciousness, of a day laborer who organized other day laborers – on a street corner – to respect each other in the search for work – and also to fight injustice. Fernando was part of the classes with some of my students on the street corner in Rancho where he was not only a learner but a teacher – and went beyond the learning to read and write – but to use his skills in organizing against injustices.

In 2002, when the city of Rancho Cucamonga passed a law against day laborers being able to look for work on the street, Fernando was not afraid and took the city to court to ensure that his comrades could continue to organize themselves on the corner. After that victory, Fernando continued the struggle to create a center for day laborers.

That is the way it was for Fernando, Don Gilberto, and other workers who, with the support of students, the Pomona Day Labor Center, and NDLON, developed a corner of struggle that, not only helped the workers in employment and education, but organized them to respond to monthly attacks, on the corner of Arrow and Grove, by such anti-immigrant groups as the Ku Klux Klan and the Minute Men. Hence, on April 2, 2007, a dozen of Ku Klux Klansmen wearing their Klan t-shirts and hats protested the day laborers on that corner. A month later, on Cinco de Mayo 2007 (a day celebrated in Mexican communities when the colonial French army was defeated in Puebla by a largely Mestizo and Zapotec force in 1862) dozens of Minute Men protested across the street from the day laborers. In the middle of the protest, two cars collided on the road and one of the cars landed on the sidewalk killing our leader Fernando.

Although his death hurt all of us deeply, Fernando is very much alive in the ongoing development of the Pomona Day Labor Center, the continuance of classes and leadership development at the corner, and in the annual organizing of an annual memorial attended by day laborers, students and the community. The example and spirit of Fernando is here today with all of you – leaders from all over the country- with the advancement of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (which began with a few and now includes hundreds in corners, centers and cities throughout the nation).

We are here in the spirit of Fernando, to use our skills – without fear – to defeat the walls of ignorance, racism, and scapegoating. At this time when the conservative right and the government use the frustration of workers– (many who don’t have livable salaries and benefits) to advance hatred against our immigrant communities – now, more than ever, it is necessary that we commit ourselves to fight and organize (in the spirit of Fernando) for justice, for fair wages and benefits, for the legalization of our immigrant communities (that contribute billions to the economy with our labor and the taxes that we pay).

We all know very well that this is what Fernando and all those who have sacrificed their lives across the nation would want. Their spirit is very much alive among us – and in that spirit – with the NDLON – with the development of the Jose Fernando Pedraza Institute – we can be sure that in the end we will win – and that a better future – as a result of our efforts – is on the horizon for our communities.

Fernando Pedraza Lives and La Lucha Sigue!

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Analysis Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Voices for New Democracy Immigration Forum

This weekend, Voices for New Democracy hosted the second forum in our new series of panels focused on pressing issues for today’s left: the future of the labor movement, immigration, economic democracy, and more.

Our latest forum centered on immigration, with presentations from our four panelists on key trends in the immigration landscape: the domestic political context for growing demands for immigration reform, the intersection of our racist criminal legal system with the deportation machine, the international context of neoliberalism in the Global South driving migration in the first place, and the need to link immigrant struggles with other social justice movements to effectively combat the white supremacist movement that threatens both.

Watch the full presentation and learn more about panelists below.

José Z. Calderón:

José Guillermo Zapata Calderón is an Emeritus Professor in Sociology and Chicano Studies at Pitzer College and President of the Latino and Latina Roundtable of the Pomona Valley and San Gabriel Valley.

As an immigrant and the son of immigrant farm workers, he has had a long history of connecting his academic work with immigrant rights organizing, student-based service learning, participatory action research, critical pedagogy, and community-based coalition building.  

After graduating from the University of Colorado, he devoted fourteen years to community organizing efforts, particularly in Northern Colorado. While working on his PhD at UCLA, between 1984 and 1991, he helped organize multi-racial coalitions to defeat an English Only movement in the city of Monterey Park and to elect various local leaders to political offices. More recently, he has connected his academic work with community organizing in California’s Inland Empire region.

Miguel Tinker Salas:

Miguel Tinker Salas is an authority on political and social issues confronting Latin America. He is the author of Venezuela, What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford, 2015); The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela (Duke University Press, 2009) Spanish edition Una herencia que perdura, petróleo, cultura y sociedad en Venezuela, GALAC 2014); co-editor with Steve Ellner of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy, (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007); co editor with Jan Rus of Mexico 2006-2012: neoliberalism, movimientos sociales y politica electoral, (Miguel Angel Porrua and Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2006) and author of Under the Shadow of the Eagles, The Border and the Transformation of Sonora During the Porfiriato, University of California Press 1997; Spanish edition, A la sombra de las águilas, Sonora y la transformación de la frontera durante el Porfiriato, Fondo de Cultura Económica 2010).

His expertise includes: contemporary Latin America, society and politics in Venezuela and Mexico, oil, culture and politics in Venezuela, the drug war in Mexico, Mexican border society, Chicanos/as and Latinos/as in the United States, and Latin American immigration.

Miguel Tinker Salas is currently a Professor of Latin American History and Chicano/a Latino/a Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Lee Wang:

Lee leads the development of IDP’s strategic vision, working across program areas to ensure that the organization advances its goals and mission. Previously, she was the founding Director of the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund, a program at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund that fights to free immigrants from detention. She started her legal career at IDP as a Skadden Fellow and has played a key role in building the organization’s ICE Out of Courts campaign. Lee is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and Yale College. In a previous life, she was a muckraking journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Leticia Bustamante:

Leticia Bustamante is a Project Coordinator for the Dream Resource Center focused on the annual Dream Summer program. Leticia graduated from UCLA in 2017 with a major in Political Science and minor in Labor Studies. Leticia is an alumni of the Dream Summer program herself, she formed part of the Labor Cohort for the class of 2016 and interned with the California Nurses Association. As a student at UCLA, she participated in the UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy (CAPPP) program in Washington, DC. She interned at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee where she investigated the economic effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Categories
Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Forum on Labor’s Future: The State of the American Labor Movement

As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, UCLA Labor Center Director and moderator Kent Wong began the discussion with a recap of the state of the American labor movement. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.

On May 1st, 2006, 1 million immigrant workers in Los Angeles held the largest May Day action in US history. Billed as a “day without immigrants,” the informal strike brought the city to a standstill and successfully defeated a major anti-immigration bill. But while this represented a major victory for the immigrant rights movement and demonstrated the power of organized labor, it is notable that this action was not led by the American labor movement.

The May Day action is just one illustrative example of broader issues facing the labor movement in the United States. It has faced years of assaults by federal and state governments, shocks of austerity and deregulation, and fissures within the labor movement that have sometimes left it at odds with other social justice movements like the struggle for immigrant rights. With that in mind, it is critically important to understand how we got here, so that we can craft the right strategy to rebuild stronger than ever before.

Since the 1950s, union density in the United States has been steadily on the decline. American unions reached their height in the 1950s with roughly 35% union density across all sectors of the American economy. But since then, this number has declined to just ~10% today, with only 6% of private sector workers represented by unions. Today, the public sector is the last stronghold of the American labor movement, with major unions like SEIU, AFSCME, NEA, AFT, UFT holding strong.

Faced with this reality, the key task for the labor movement is rebuilding. And these five strategies and tactics may hold the key to doing so:

  • Build labor-community unity with a broad vision for social & economic justice (like Fight for $15)
  • Embrace racial justice
  • Organize the unorganized
  • Fight for immigrant rights
  • Link organizing power and political power

By embracing these principles and expanding the scope of its vision – both of the working class itself and the social transformation it seeks to build – the labor movement can recapture momentum and power.

Recent campaigns are a testament to this fact. The Justice for Janitors campaign, for example, successfully reorganized the industry through pathbreaking organizing strategies and tactics. Likewise, the hotel workers campaign embraced nonviolence and use of direct action/civil disobedience, pioneering creative organizing tactics resulting in the reorganizing of the hotel industry across LA.

Even beyond the workplace, recent events show that the labor movement can also exert major strength in the political sphere, provided that it adopts the right strategies and visions. The LA Federation of Labor, for example, recently developed a major political mobilization campaign that successfully flipped the political alignment in LA and California based on a union organizing framework. This battle was won precisely because the Federation tapped rank-and-file union members to engage in political process, offering lost-time wages paid for by the union to members who were doing political organizing.

Likewise, the Biden-Harris presidential victory was won by an alliance of labor and communities of color. The context is important: Trump had won (by thin margins) former union strongholds like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania (which have been the target of robust anti-union attacks and legislation). But in 2020, they flipped back — in part, due to massive union infusion of organizing, which also played out in Arizona and Georgia. Hundreds of full-time canvassers were sent by their unions to do door-to-door mobilization even during the pandemic, which decisively helped flip Arizona and secured the victories of Senators Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia.

Labor organizers and unions must take note of these trends and these case studies as we continue working to build the power of the labor movement. If we can do so, labor’s future looks bright.

Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.

Categories
Global Peace & Collaboration Social Justice

On Supporting Immigrant/Refugee Rights

“Building Multi-Racial Coalitions Against Trump’s Criminalization Policies”

| Jose Calderon |

The families who are coming here from Central America, Mexico, and Latin America overall are coming as a result of years of this country’s foreign policies toward those countries and the growing violence and poverty. These reasons include the economic inequalities that exist between the U. S. and Latin America, the uprooting of farmers and peasants as a result of trade agreements such as NAFTA that favor the subsidized multinational corporate interests in this country, and policies that result in the undercutting of staple crops such as beans and corn. 

These policies have historically tended to separate immigrants coming to this country into political and economic refugees. Those coming from Cuba, for example, have been labeled as political refugees, as running from a country that this country has decided is persecuting them, and has welcomed them with speedy and immediate legalization status. This was also true for Vietnamese refugees who were also labeled as political refugees.

Those coming from Mexico or Central America are labeled as “economic refugees.”  In practice, the U. S. during the Reagan administration continued to grant refugee status to immigrants from Southeast Asian and Eastern Europe while making it difficult for others fleeing places like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Being a refugee then has not been a matter of personal choice, but of government decisions based on a combination of legal guidelines and political expediency. How one is classified, as either an economic or political refugee, depends on the relationship between the U. S. and the country of origin and the international context of the time. It is problematic because it is not an economic mode of incorporation but a political status, validated by an explicit decision of the U. S. government.

The immigrant and refugee families from Central America come from countries where U. S. companies have been using their cheap labor and resources historically. The immigrant and refugee families are also running from drug cartels who would have no success were it not for the demand of the consumers that are primarily located right here in the U. S. Many are hoping to be reunited with parents or relatives already living in America, and they cross the border without papers because there are virtually no legal ways for them to immigrate. Nor can their undocumented parents return home to get them.

The media primarily blames the immigrant and refugee families for leaving because of gang violence but there are deeper issues here. A lot of the gangs in Southern California were formed as part of the great migration from El Salvador when Ronald Reagan and the U. S. government in the 1980’s intervened in that civil war resulting in 75,000 deaths. Many were arrested and deported and, in El Salvador and other central American countries we saw the rise of death squads and the mass incarceration of gang members. After the war, there was a rise in gangs and, although the U. S. government has not played any role in developing programs to deal with this issue, it has been organizations such as that of Homies Unidos who have been in the forefront of organizing and reducing the incarceration of gang members. Similarly, the Central American country of Honduras, from where many recent refugee children and families are coming from, has had a long history of wars that have displaced thousands. More recently, in 2009, the U. S. supported a military coup in Honduras that resulted in the ouster of the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya.  Following the coup, there has been mayhem in the government with oppression of any groups that protest. The economy has been in dire stress and thousands of children and families have been thrown into the streets and, with nowhere else to go, have joined the thousands of refugees who have made their way to the U. S. Mexican border. This is also true for the thousands climbing on trains and leaving Guatemala, a country where the U. S. supported a military junta that killed thousands of indigenous people.

The media and politicians in this country bypass this history when they present the reasons why immigrant and refugee families are coming here and seeking asylum. As a result, we have had rabid racism and nativism displayed by angry mobs in places like Murrieta, California with cries that these families have no rights to be here and should be immediately deported.

This goes against the official reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which documents that almost 60 percent of the children and the families fleeing to the United States from Central America are legitimate asylum seekers.

It is only our efforts that can ensure that the asylum-seeking immigrant and refugee families stuck in places like Tijuana and those who are coming here are not removed through a non-judicial process but receive the opportunity for fair and full consideration of their legal claims with access to legal counsel. The cost of pushing these refugee and immigrant families back into dangerous or deadly situations is simply too high.   

These children and families, under international law, are entitled to be classified as refugees from violence and war. They have the right, as refugees, to have legal assistance and to have their cases heard before a judge. Those who are found to be refugees from violence or persecution have the right to asylum. However, instead of the U.S. asylum system recognizing the unique forms of persecution that these immigrant and refugee families have faced in their host countries, they are being denied any opportunity to articulate their claims for asylum — they are simply detained for long periods of time in inadequate facilities with little regard for their best interests.

In recent years, we have learned that it is only our organizing work at the grass-roots that can ensure legislation that is truly just and that rewards, not criminalizes, immigrant families and refugees for their contributions. We have moved forward from the period in 2004-2006 when California Governor Pete Wilson used Proposition 187 to get re-elected, when the Sensenbrenner bill was advanced by the anti-immigrant conservative right, and when there was a cutting of bilingual education and affirmative action. It was not that long ago that many labor unions were anti-immigrant. Now, in a recent session of the CA legislature, it was unions that helped to pass Assembly Bill 450, requiring an employer to require proper court documents before allowing immigration agents access to the workplace or to employee information. Alongside this, it is important to recognize the role that Dream Act recipients played in moving policy at a federal level like no other organization has been able to do in recent years. It was Dream Act recipients, before the 2012 elections, that showed their capacities for exerting this political power by presenting 11,000 signatures, courageously leading protests in the streets, and holding a series of sit-ins across the country that, along with many community-based legal teams, led to Obama’s executive order granting “deferred action status” and implementing a Deferred Action Policy.

The best strategy that these combined forces have been able to advance has been one that has organized multi-racially at the local, state, and national levels. On the local level, in the city of Pomona, I have been part of coalitions that have included immigrant, labor (UFCW), student, faith-based, and community-based organizations. The Pomona Habla coalition, on a local level, was an example of a coalition that took a local issue about immigrant rights and connected it to policy changes statewide (while building support to change immigration policies nationally). 

The coalition became a model for the passage of ordinances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Baldwin Park allowing an unlicensed driver that permit an unlicensed driver to allow another licensed driver to allow another licensed driver to take custody of the vehicle rather than having it impounded. These statewide efforts led to the introduction of a bill by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, restricting local police from impounding cars at traffic checkpoint simply because a driver is unlicensed. This ultimately led to the passage of a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

In connecting the local to statewide efforts it is no accident why our political representatives have taken positions of “no ban and no wall,” supporting California as a sanctuary state, and vowing to protect the rights of our immigrant and targeted communities regardless of what oppressive policies Trump tries to force the states and cities to carry out. In recent years, it is the immigrant rights and worker movements who have pressured legislators in passing landmark pro–immigrant legislative policies such as: in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, new rules designed to limit deportations, state-funded healthcare for children, a new law to erase the word “alien” from California’s labor code, and the passage of SB-54, called the Sanctuary bill, which prohibits California officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status and limits cooperation between California police officers and federal immigration agents. There are other bills in recent legislative session that have included measures to block the expansion of immigration detention centers, to protect undocumented immigrants from housing discrimination, and to stop unjust workplace raids.

The roots of these changes on the state level have their foundation in the organizing that is taking place at the grass-roots. On the local level, we have our coalitions that have been exemplary in the development of a partnership between the community-based Latino and Latina Roundtable organization, the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, the Pomona Valley Chapter of the NAACP, the Inland Valley Immigrant Justice Coaltion, and others. In creating connections between the educational and immigrant rights needs of families, the partnership has implemented workshops for hundreds of students and parents in how to qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, how to obtain a Matricula Consular card (an official identification document issued by the Mexican government), and (with a coalition with the Pomona Day Labor Center) workshops on how to obtain a California driver’s license. The partnership on K-12 and college pipeline issues has led to further action, including family summits and some parents who have gone with us to Sacramento to educate our representatives on bills to provide safe schools for immigrant children and to ban the use of public funds to aid federal agents in deportation actions, as well as other legislation to protect vulnerable students and advance educational equity. We have also been organizing by getting our members and others to understand the Real ID, after the California DMV began offering a compliant Real ID driver license or ID card as an option in order for its holders to be able to board a domestic flight or enter a federal facility as of October 1, 2020. Most of the undocumented community is not eligible to receive these documents, which exposes them to vigilantism, profiling, and persecution. We therefore have been calling on our communities to opt for a non-compliant I.D. or driver’s license for use in our daily life in California instead – and in this way our documentation will be the same as that of an undocumented person with a driver’s license, thus making the distinction between “compliant” and “non-compliant” documents less effective as a mechanism to isolate our undocumented community.     

As part of these efforts, we have been organizing to defend the rights of our Central American families who have faced deportation with Trump’s actions to abolish the Temporary Protected Status program affecting many Central American families (some whom have been here for over twenty years) with children who have grown up in this country and are now attending school or college or have full-time jobs. When the Trump administration sought to deport over 400,000 immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a coalition made up of organizations such as the National Day Labor Organizing Network, CARECEN-LA, and the National TPS Alliance led a campaign to defend the program. This multiracial coalition has been exemplary in organizing a grassroots network of over 70 TPS committees from across the country, in training new immigrant rights leaders, and in bringing two class-action TPS justice lawsuits that initially blocked Trump’s termination of TPS status for nearly half a million people from six countries: Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Nepal. These efforts, while initially successful in achieving a one-year extension for all six countries covered by the two lawsuits, received a setback on October 12 when the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Trump administration and cleared the way for ending the protection of the 400,000 families covered under this program. In response, the coalition is embarking on a “Road to Justice” bus tour exposing how Trump’s TPS terminations were motivated by racism, going to 54 cities in 32 states, and ending with advocacy actions and meetings with congressional legislators in Washington, D.C.

Instead of supporting billions for surveillance technology, including unmanned drones and military-grade radar and billions toward the construction of a double-layer fence, our coalitions have continued to fight to stop the deportations of our undocumented brothers and sisters, who are not  hard-core criminals, but whose only crimes are to work to feed their families here and abroad!   

We continue to point out through forums and our research that the focus of this administration on enforcement and against a speedy process  goes against the many studies that show how much undocumented immigrants would stimulate the economy if they were allowed legalization as quickly as possible. According to the American Progress organization, a speedier legalization would result in: an additional $1.4 trillion to the Gross National Product between the present and 2022; resident workers benefitting with an additional $791 billion in personal income; and the economy creating an average of an additional 203,000 jobs per year. Within five years of their legalization, undocumented immigrant workers would be earning 25% more than they are earning resulting in an additional tax revenue of $184 billion (with $116 billion to the federal government and $68 billion to state and local governments). Overall these statistics sustain the argument that the sooner asylum and legalization can happen, the more the significant gains for all working people and the greater the gains for the U.S. economy. 

A progressive immigration policy will take fighting for supporting the allocation of funds for processing and not for enforcement — to take the millions being proposed for more fence and more border officers and use it for a more efficient means of doing away with a backlog of thousands waiting in line for legalization. It needs to include additional resources to allow for hearings that ensure the rights and interests of the children and families in all proceedings, so that they can be released as quickly as possible from Border Patrol facilities that are inadequate.

Beyond the short-term need to ensure protection of rights and safe environments for our immigrant and refugee families, it is important to deal with the reality of conditions that are occurring in Latin American countries. What is true is the reality that immigrant workers will remain in or return to their homeland when the economy in these countries improves. If the U. S. federal government was really interested in doing something about immigration long-term, it would work to strengthen the sending countries’ economies. There is no reason why the U.S. could not develop bilateral job-creating approaches in key immigrant-sending areas. What is needed now and long-term is moving away from policies that merely focus on an enforcement that racially profiles our communities to policies that will speed-up the process to legalization, and advance a commitment to enhanced funding streams for economic development in the immigrant-sending countries (such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras).

It was refreshing after Trump’s announcement of non-support for DACA to see how people from all backgrounds walked out of schools and jobs to protest in support. Our support for the DACA program has been further bolstered by a study that just came out from Professor Roberto Gonzalez, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, how DACA has benefited over 800,000 of our young immigrants, contributed to the nation’s workforce, and added billions of dollars to the economy. This study comes at a time when the Supreme Court opposed the Trump Administration’s policies to terminate DACA (sending the decision back to the Department of Homeland Security) and brings forward the significance of the November presidential elections in deciding its future.

With this administration’s attacks in opposing DACA and TPS, it is more important than ever to continue organizing marches and protests by our individual organizations alongside building multi-racial coalitions who are collectively carrying out voter turn-out efforts to ensure the election of representatives who truly represent the interests and issues of our communities; fighting alongside our communities against immigration and refugee policies that only focus on enforcement; and fighting for policies that will immediately lead to permanent residency and citizenship for our immigrant and refugee families with no expansion of temporary guest worker (bracero) programs and with labor law protections.