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Fighting for the American Dream

Photos by Naomi Brito
Fighting for the American Dream
By Pete Levine ·
Tags: Priorities

AFSCME leaders voiced their support – and put their values on the line – for the children of undocumented immigrants on a day of action organized by the National Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Organizing Table, a coalition of AAPI organizations.

AFSCME International Vice President Johanna Puno Hester, assistant executive director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Hester stood in solidarity with members of Congress and young adults – “Dreamers” – who told heart-wrenching stories about the struggles of living in the shadows and their dream of achieving full citizenship.

Hester, who was born in the Philippines and came to the U.S. when she 15 years old, condemned the Trump administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA, established by President Barack Obama in 2012, had allowed the children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. to pursue schooling and work. They could apply for deferrals every two years.

The Trump administration terminated the program in September, and in so doing, sent 800,000 DACA-eligible people into limbo, a move that AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders called “grossly unfair and morally reprehensible.” 

“I have been organizing workers for more than two decades,” said Hester, “and never have I seen a more vicious administration than this one, where imminent threats against our families, our friends, and our communities are in front of us.”

At a rally held later, AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride spoke as well, saying that Congress should do its job and pass the Dream Act instead of cutting taxes for the super wealthy, destroying health care and attacking workers, immigrants and students.

The rally culminated in Hester and other labor, social justice and Asian American allies knocking on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s door, demanding passage of the DREAM Act. Despite Ryan’s refusal to open his office door, the group persisted in its civil disobedience. Group members were arrested without incident and released the same day.

The Cost of Inaction

“If we don’t fight,” declared Hester, 2nd Vice President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), “millions of Americans will suffer. We must advocate for a future in which immigrant families are kept together.”

Hester said her father, a hotel worker active in his union, often took her to the picket line when she was a child.

“I quickly realized that we are a country of opportunities. But nothing is won without a fight. This is a personal fight,” said Hester.

The stakes are high. Deporting the Dreamers would have a devastating economic impact, according to a report by The Center for American Progress. It would cost the U.S. economy over $460 billion over 10 years, according to the report, which went on to say, “Every day DACA renewals are halted, over 1,400 jobs are lost.”

And that doesn’t begin to touch on the devastation that would result from tearing hardworking families apart.

One additional purpose of the day of action was to shed light on the often-overlooked Asian American and Pacific Islander community, of which some 130,000 members were eligible for DACA. Across the country and within UDW specifically, working families of Asian and Pacific Islander descent play an essential role in serving their communities and in their union.

“We want to make sure our members know our union sees them and stands with them,” said Hester.

AFSCME International Vice President Doug Moore, who’s also executive director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, attended the rally as well. He said the prospect of deporting Dreamers “is just flat out wrong. This Congress is trying to move us backward, not forward.”

Versions of the DREAM Act have been around for 16 years, but the latest, bipartisan version is the strongest, according to the National Immigration Law Center. The coalition is pressing for a “clean” version of the bill, free from unrelated provisions, to be passed before the end of the year.

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