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Being an “Essential Worker” Won’t Save You From Deportation

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Legions of undocumented immigrants in the United States carry letters signed by their employers stating that President Donald Trump’s administration considers them essential workers amid the pandemic. While these letters exempt them from being arrested by local agents for violating stay-at-home orders, these workers could still be detained and deported by federal authorities.

José (a pseudonym to protect his identity as an undocumented worker), a landscaper in Connecticut, has had such a letter since the beginning of the stay-at-home executive orders in March. His job, though, could hardly be considered essential.

“We are sent in to maintain malls, apartment buildings, corporations and government offices,” says José, who has worked for Middletown, Connecticut-based Bravo Landscaping, for over a decade. “We first pick up all the dead leaves, then mark the edges of the green areas and cut the grass.”

Although he’s been deemed “essential,” José is not entitled to protective gear, compensation, federal financial aid or safeguards from immigration agents. For several weeks, José actually worked without protective equipment.

“Two workers already contracted Covid-19, and their whole teams were sent home to quarantine with just 60 percent of their wages,” says José. “As for the sick co-workers, I don’t know if the company is paying for their treatment.”

Connecticut has qualified landscaping as an essential industry since March. Under this cover, companies such as Bravo Landscaping can determine how to manage their undocumented workforce through a deadly pandemic.

“The Covid crisis is really highlighting the contradictions that have always existed in the United States,” says Tania Unzueta, political director of Mijente, a grassroots organization advocating for social justice. “Whether immigrants or U.S.-born, essential workers are not given a livable wage, health insurance or a social network of support.”

Undocumented essential workers were not even considered in the $2.5 trillion relief package approved by Congress and, except in California, have not received financial aid from state or local governments. Additionally, they are being detained and deported.

Though the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has suspended large-scale raids since mid-April, it still arrests immigrants that pose “a criminal or public safety threat”—a vague and arbitrarily enforced mandate.

In the midst of the pandemic, the Trump administration has focused its anti-immigrant zeal in removing from the United States thousands of immigrants already in detention centers and in reducing the number of work permits issued to foreigners.

With a Supreme Court ruling impending, the debate over massive ICE raids and deportations, however, will be back in the spotlight.

This ruling, which might put hundreds of thousands of people at risk, will assess whether the Trump administration’s decision to terminate DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is constitutional or if it flouted federal government regulations.

“Good” or “bad” immigrant?

Initiated by a 2014 executive order of President Barack Obama, DACA grants two-year renewable work permits and deportations deferrals to 690,000 migrants that arrived in the United States as minors before 2007. Trump’s administration argued in 2017 that the program is unconstitutional and should be terminated.

The lower courts concluded, nonetheless, that the administration’s decision to end the program was “arbitrary and capricious.” Having heard oral arguments last November, the Supreme Court has yet to issue an opinion, expected before June 20.

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules—whether it terminates DACA immediately, phases it out or sides with the lower courts—immigrants advocates expect that Trump will try to exploit the issue to boost his chances for reelection in November.

“Republicans have used the same playbook since 2016—to criminalize immigrants and blame them for anybody else’s misfortunes. And to do anything and everything in their power to fear monger and scare everybody,” says Pili Tobar, deputy director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group for immigration reform. “The upcoming election won’t be any different.”

President Trump has proposed in the past to keep DACA in exchange for accelerating deportations and drastically reducing immigration. In practical terms, he offered Democrats to save some immigrants from deportation while removing the vast majority of them. “Republicans are always going to try to pit immigrants against each other,” says Tobar.

Trump’s previous strategy certainly suggests that once the Supreme Court rules, he will try again to pit DACA recipients, U.S. citizens save for their papers, against hard-working immigrants like José, essential workers too but lacking any legal or political recognition.

“For people, it’s easier to argue for the undocumented young person or the kids locked in cages, but I think it’s important to talk about how to roll back the system,” says Unzueta. “When children are detained at the border and placed in detention centers, at the same time, their parents are being criminalized, charged with felonies and put in federal prison.”

The United States needs to figure out how to bring immigrants into the citizenry, says Tobar, rather than demonize, exploit and dispose of them during a crisis. “All of the 11 million undocumented people in this country are essential workers, contributing, one way or another, to their countries and communities.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maurizio Guerrero is a journalist based in New York.


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Union Teachers Are Donating Their Stimulus Checks to the Undocumented

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Brooke Anderson | Author | Common Dreams

Olivia Udovic and her husband, Edgar Sánchez—both teachers in Oakland—are among millions of Americans receiving federal stimulus checks. The money didn’t stay in their bank account for long, however; the pair is part of a nationwide movement of teachers paying their checks forward to undocumented families in their schools. 

Udovic teaches kindergarten at Manzanita SEED Elementary, a dual-language school serving many immigrant households. Sixty-five percent of students there receive free or reduced-cost lunch. When schools closed March 27 in response to Covid-19, Udovic and her coworkers called parents for wellness check-ins. “Families were losing jobs, couldn’t pay rent and were left without food—especially undocumented folks who couldn’t access unemployment benefits,” Udovic says. 

The $2.2 trillion federal Covid-19 stimulus package provides $1,200 to taxpayers bringing home less than $75,000 a year (plus $500 per child) and expands unemployment benefits. But undocumented workers are excluded from both provisions, despite collectively paying billions in taxes. California created its own $125 million coronavirus disaster relief fund to provide $500 in cash to some 250,000 undocumented immigrants in the state—a little less than 15% of the undocumented workforce. For many, that won’t fill the gap.

So Udovic and other members of her union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), organized teachers to pledge their stimulus checks to Centro Legal de la Raza’s Oakland Undocumented Relief (OUR) Fund. The fund provides $500 checks or pre-paid debit cards to each family—an important consideration for many undocumented people who do not have bank accounts. According to Udovic, as of April 20, 33 teachers have pledged more than $16,000. 

Henry Sales is a leader in Oakland’s Mam community, many of whom arrived from Guatemala without papers. “Many Mam people have come to the U.S. to work as day laborers, or they are selling fruit on the street,” Sales says. “They tell me, ‘If I can’t work, how will I care for my family, pay electricity, rent, food?’”

Oakland teachers are not alone. Frank Lara teaches fifth grade at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School, a dual-language Spanish immersion school in San Francisco. While Lara transitioned to online classes, he was also talking to his undocumented neighbors in the Mission District. The heavily Latino neighborhood is home to many essential workers and has been hard-hit by the virus.

“It became apparent that undocumented folks who are holding the entire U.S. economy together would be sidelined,” Lara says. “Thanks to the strength of the union, we’ve maintained full-time jobs and benefits. Because we’re in that privileged position, people wanted to give. We said, ‘Let’s do it collectively.’”

Lara’s union, the United Educators of San Francisco, organized to give to UndocuFund SF—with 340 teachers pledging more than $115,000 so far.

Teachers in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago have also organized funds. 

Anna Lane, a history teacher at Thomas Kelly College Preparatory in Chicago, has been working through the Chicago Teachers Union to survey parents, distribute resource lists and organize coworkers to donate to the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council’s Community Response Fund to support undocumented families. 

“We’re not rolling in the dough,” Lane says. “But I get to stay home while my students’ parents work dangerous jobs or have been laid off. If I have that privilege, how do I help? Giving my check is not a sacrifice, it’s a necessity. We’re supposed to take care of each other.” 

Back in Oakland, Udovic credits her union’s support in part to its increased emphasis on rank-and-file leaders. OEA’s historic weeklong 2019 strike trained hundreds of teachers to become union activists. “Many people doing the work today didn’t know how to participate before the strike,” Udovic says.

“The community coalition and relationships with parents that we built during the strike helped us be in a position during the Covid pandemic to rapidly address the needs of our families,” says OEA President Keith Brown.

For many unions, this moment is not just about providing immediate mutual aid to students’ families, but backing broader community demands. 

“Just like in the strike, we do this for the families,” Lane says. “I’m proud of my union for promoting equity across Chicago by signing onto the Right to Recovery for all Chicagoans.” The Right to Recovery is a “common good” platform, put forward by dozens of labor and community organizations with many local and state elected officials, calling for paid time off, free Covid-19 testing and a moratorium on evictions, mortgage payments and utility shutoffs. 

In Oakland, Udovic says, “The OEA is voting to be in solidarity with the rent strikes,” referring to the movement of tenants withholding rent and calling for its cancellation, given they cannot earn income while sheltering in place. 

Lara emphasizes that the political climate necessitates unions help their communities as a whole. “We should see this as the trajectory of the union,” he says. “We’re one with the communities we serve. Without the support of those communities, we can’t win broader, radical reforms in public education.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Brooke Anderson is an Oakland, California-based organizer and photojournalist. She has spent 20 years building movements for social, economic, racial and ecological justice. She is a proud union member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA 39521, AFL-CIO.


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Trump administration attacks unions for fast-growing occupation, this week in the war on workers

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A new part of the Trump administration’s ongoing quest to weaken worker power goes into effect this Friday, in the form of a new regulation banning automatic union dues deduction for home health workers paid directly by Medicaid. That means that the workers, many of whom have only recently become union members—and have gotten significant raises as a result—would have to individually pay their union dues.

That means a new hassle in the lives of workers who are still paid low wages and in many cases work long hours at multiple jobs. And it means major administrative hassles for the unions that represent them.

Adarra Benjamin, an Illinois home health worker, told ThinkProgress what this attack on her union membership means to her, saying, “We are the union—the workers in general are the union—and understanding that if we don’t come together, we don’t have a voice. If we don’t have a voice, no one understands where the hard work and the dedication is coming from… no one understands what it takes to take care of yourself and other people.”

Home health work is one of the fastest-growing occupations in recent years. Workers are overwhelmingly women and people of color; immigrants are also a significant part of this workforce.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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After letter from former undocumented employees, Trump feigns ignorance

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Amid the ongoing immigration crisis in the U.S., President Donald Trump claimed this week that he “didn’t know” that his own properties had hired numerous undocumented migrants as long-time employees.

Asked specifically about undocumented employees at Trump’s numerous golf clubs, Trump pleaded ignorance to The New York Times on Friday.

“I don’t know because I don’t run it,” Trump said when asked about the immigration status of workers at his golf resorts. “But I would say this: Probably every club in the United States has that because it seems to be — from what I understand — a way that people did business.”

Trump’s claim comes amid revelations about a humanitarian crisis within America’s sprawling detentions centers. It also comes shortly after the Trump Organization announced it had fired nearly two dozen undocumented employees from golf courses in both New York and New Jersey. (The Trump Organization also announced it would now be using E-Verify, a governmental system providing information on employees’ legal status.)

Despite Trump’s claims, many of the fired employees, who included maids and groundskeepers, claimed the Trump Organization knew for years about their legal status, but only fired them within the past several months.

One former employee, an undocumented migrant from Guatemala, told CBS News that her bosses at the Trump National Gold Club in New Jersey “knew she was not authorized to live in the U.S. but hired her anyway.”

Now, some of those fired are requesting a sit-down meeting with Trump himself — a meeting the White House apparently has little interest in entertaining.

In a two-page letter addressed directly to Trump, some 21 former employees — all of whom are undocumented — called on the president to meet with them directly to discuss their situation.

We are writing to respectfully request a meeting with you. We are modest people who represent the dreams of the 11 million undocumented men, women and children who live and work in this country. We love America and want to talk to you about helping to give us a chance to become legal.

We know you and your family; we worked very hard to make your clubs a success and to keep your members and visitors happy. You know many of us and will recall how hard we worked for you, your family and your golf clubs. We all took great pride in our hard work and years of service to make your clubs successful.

You know we are hard workers and that we are not criminals or seeking a free ride in America. We all pay our taxes, love our faith and our family, and simply want to find a place for ourselves to make America even better.

But the White House is in no rush to welcome the former employees to a meeting with the president. The signatories received a letter from the White House on Wednesday, noting that they were “reviewing” the letter.

The letter, and Trump’s denials, come amid escalating showdowns between the federal government and undocumented migrants trying to remain in the U.S.

As ThinkProgress reported earlier this week, some undocumented migrants have begun receiving letters ordering the migrants to pay fines for staying in the country. Those letters parallel Trump’s recent threats to work around a Supreme Court ruling and directly impose questions about citizenship on the upcoming 2020 census — and as conditions at detention centers continue to deteriorate.

As ThinkProgress’s Joshua Eaton wrote on Friday:

[C]onditions on the nation’s southwest border boiled over this week, after the Associated Press revealed squalid conditions at a shelter for migrant children near El Paso, Texas; a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that Customs and Border Protection is holding immigrants in cells that are nearly double their capacity, and that children at some CBP facilities lack access to showers and laundry; and ProPublica revealed a secret Facebook group for Border Patrol agents that included sexist memes about members of Congress and jokes about migrant children dying in CBP custody.

Meanwhile, the threat of deportation hangs over the former Trump employees’ heads.

“We believe you have a heart and will do the right thing to find a home for us here in America,” they wrote in their letter, “so that we can step out of the shadows and not deport us and our friends and family.”

 

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on July 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Michel is an investigative reporter at ThinkProgress. He is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan, and received his master’s degree from Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, POLITICO Magazine, and The Atlantic, among others. Reach him at [email protected]


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