Immigrant Workers Win with Solidarity

By Suzy Subways

Immigrant Philadelphians are being stalked by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Arrested at work and taken to detention centers, jails or prison. Followed and arrested on the street. Grabbed by ICE at traffic court. Scanned with mobile fingerprinting machines in their own homes as ICE agents check their immigration history.

When ICE arrests people at home, they often come after midnight, terrorizing families with aggressive tactics. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Erika Almirón said that more immigrants are refusing to open their doors to ICE since her organization, Juntos, trained hundreds of families on their human and legal rights. Juntos and the New Sanctuary Movement have also helped immigrants like Javier Flores, who moved into the Arch Street United Methodist Church on November 13th, seeking sanctuary from deportation. He is still living there now, as the Partisan goes to press.

Since ICE often arrests immigrants when they go to court, New Sanctuary Movement organizes volunteers to go with undocumented people to court in groups. “NSM is working with members of our congregations and the accompaniment program to build strategy that breaks all the remaining holds ICE still has on our city, where they can still arrest people at city sites,” organizer Sheila Quintana says.

On April 21st, Philadelphia got a warning letter from Trump’s Department of Justice that the city would lose federal funding if local police do not hand over detainees to ICE without a federal warrant. But as Juntos observes in a statement on their website, “ICE still has access to people’s information through the police database…. There is still lots of work to be done if we want to declare Philadelphia a sanctuary city, one not just for immigrants but for black and brown folks, poor people, workers, etc.,” because of stop-and-frisk policing, racial profiling, cash bail, and police in the schools.

What makes people “criminals”?

President Obama deported about 3 million immigrants and kept an average of roughly 40,000 locked up in detention, including women with small children. And Trump has turned up the volume on some frightening rhetoric that could allow him to surpass even Obama’s record-breaking numbers.

Right after the election, Trump said he would deport or incarcerate 2 or 3 million “criminal” immigrants. His numbers are wildly wrong. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that only about 820,000 unauthorized immigrants in the United States have criminal convictions. Studies have shown immigrants are less likely to break the law than people born here. But in March, ICE began publishing hand-picked information on crimes allegedly committed by immigrants in “sanctuary cities”—a tactic used by the Nazis in its magazine called The Criminal Jew.

This talk of “crime” itself is racist. What is legally considered a crime is often about controlling people to protect capitalism, gender injustice and white supremacy, not public safety. (For example, I have two misdemeanors for burning a Confederate flag in 2001.) Immigration itself can be a crime—thousands of people each year are convicted of illegally re-entering the country and sent to federal prison. Regardless of the rhetoric, arrests of immigrants with no criminal records this January through mid-March more than doubled compared to the same period last year, according to the Washington Post.

The power of immigrant workers

Many immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America are Native American, unlike most U.S. citizens. “Free trade” policies like NAFTA threw them off their ancestral farmland and they had to go north for work. But Trump and other white supremacists believe white descendants of the settlers who took Native American land are entitled to decide who belongs here. This is why “A Day Without Immigrants” strikes are brilliant. As immigrants refuse work for a day, on February 16th, May 1st and beyond, they demonstrate how things would be if they were deported. White supremacists’ attacks on the working class can sometimes go against the interests of the capitalist owning class. Deporting line cooks, construction workers and fruit pickers in massive numbers is bad for business. Immigrant strikes can divide the ruling class and win victories, as in 2006 when they defeated anti-immigrant legislation.

And they can show the whole labor movement a path forward, blazed with rank-and-file solidarity. “While most people who participated in the February 16 strike reported being supported by their employers, several were intimidated against participating,” Quintana says. “Twenty-two workers at a recycling plant in North Philly were fired the day after the strike. With support from the Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania and NSM, the workers organized to demand that every one of them be hired back or they would all refuse to return. The boss tried dividing them by offering the job to all except the ones who organized and who regularly defied injustice in the job. Because they remained united and several organizations helped apply pressure on the business, the workers were all rehired.”

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