Labor must fight racist immigration policies

Defend immigrants’ rights amid these attacks aiming to divide working people



(July 23, 2019) — At about 7:20 a.m. last Monday, Yobany Castro-Romero was arrested in Minneapolis. Representatives of the immigrants’ rights group Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) arrived on scene to see ICE officers smash the back window of his car, showering small pieces of glass all over the car seat in his backseat, and force Castro-Romero down on the street. When an onlooker called over two lanes of traffic to ask if the officers had a warrant, she was warned not to approach by an officer with his hand on his gun holster.

Citizen or not, documented or not, we all have rights on U.S. soil. The xenophobic and racist policies driving these raids violate our fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States, and they terrify so many in our communities.

We’ve seen this locally. A June 27, 2018 raid in Basin City, Wash., shut the small town down for days, with family members desperately looking for news of loved ones who had been picked up by ICE and terrified community members sheltering indoors, afraid to leave their homes. (You can learn more about this raid — and donate to help the impacted workers with their legal costs — here).


As Americans, we should confront any violation of our fundamental rights. As unionists, we must recognize that the violation of immigrants rights is directly linked to the erosion of the rights of working people. 

Immigrants are a large part of the workforce in every sector of our economy, making vital contributions in health care, tech, education, agriculture, and manufacturing. As unionists, we recognize that immigrants are our compatriots in the fight for economic justice. The AFL-CIO recognizes that “the labor movement is the natural home for new immigrants struggling to achieve economic security and win social justice” in the United States. 

The 2018 resolution on Immigration and the Labor Movement, affirms the commitment of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO to standing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, committing ourselves to working to support and advocate for immigrants in our locals, our neighborhoods, and our politics. This resolution calls on Washington’s labor movement to “ensure that all working people have rights on the job and are able to exercise them without fear of retaliation.” 

But we cannot limit our defense of immigrants’ rights to solely the workplace, for defense of workplace rights alone cannot preserve all the rights of working people. If ICE agents, empowered by this administration’s racist and xenophobic policies, detain an immigrant worker on the street during his morning commute, how can defense of workplace rights alone help him? 

The constitution of the WSLC, the founding document of organized labor in Washington, calls on us to go further:

“We pledge ourselves to the more effective organization of working men and women; to the securing to them of full recognition and enjoyment of the rights to which they are justly entitled; to the achievement of ever higher standards of living and working conditions; to the attainment of security for all the people; to the enjoyment of the leisure which their skills make possible; and to the strengthening and extension of our way of life and the fundamental freedoms which are the basis of our democratic society.”

As unionists we are called to secure and defend the rights of working people, to act in solidarity with our brothers, sisters, and siblings in the fight for economic justice. 

To fully act in solidarity with all working people, we must combat the full impact of the current immoral and unjust immigration policy, at work and elsewhere. And I call on us all to commit ourselves to that work, and the numerous steps we can take to protect and defend all working people. 

We can work to develop rapid response plans to raids and detentions. We can run “know your rights” trainings for our members, and train these members to train others in their communities. 

We can develop resources to support immigrants obtaining naturalization, visa renewal, or change in immigration status, similar to the program the WSLC has initiated in Yakima. We can put our weight behind public policy to support immigrants regardless of status. And we can speak out, to make our opposition known, to warn our community, and to call out injustice when we see it. 

When we look at the history of the labor movement, we see that we have been at our weakest when we have been divided. Bill Fletcher’s history of Race and Labor speaks directly to how racist divisions have weakened organized labor on a whole. Current immigration policy is racist. The hate and distrust directed towards immigrants is racist, directed almost entirely at black and brown immigrants and refugees. The stomach-turning comments of the president are racist. For those of us with citizenship, we have a responsibility to confront the racist policies that are wrecking people’s lives, supposedly in the name of our safety. 

Because what truly keeps us safe is safety for all of us, not attacks on our union siblings, or policies that terrify our neighbors, or allowing the billionaire class to use race and immigration status to divide working people. Solidarity — with all working people — is our strength. 

To find out more about the work of MIRAC here. To support immigration justice work in Washington, look into the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network. To support frontline workers on the southern border, look into RAICES

April Sims is Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, representing the interests of more than 600 union organizations with approximately 550,000 rank-and-file members.

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