AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered a pep talk Tuesday to immigration advocates who arrived in Washington, D.C. this week to stage a hunger strike, pledging that the nation's largest collection of labor unions will fight to stem deportations so immigrants can stop "feeling like your community is under attack, under siege, all the time."
Trumka addressed about three dozen immigrants from New Orleans and Springfield, Mass., at the AFL-CIO headquarters. The immigrants had earlier demonstrated outside the White House to protest the Obama administration's deportation record. The labor union boss has been an outspoken supporter of the immigrant groups and has joined the call for President Obama to use his executive powers to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants being removed from the country.
"What's happening right now is unacceptable," Trumka told the immigrants. "Thank you to those participating in the hunger strike for calling attention to this untenable, unacceptable situation."
The hunger strikers, organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, are part of a larger movement of immigrant-rights groups that are ramping up demonstrations to pressure Congress and the White House to act on reform as the window shrinks for prospects of a comprehensive immigration bill.
Organizers for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) said Wednesday the group will launch a civil disobedience event in Washington next week, and they set a June 28 deadline for the House of Representatives to act on legislation. If lawmakers fail to act by that date, which marks the one-year anniversary of the Senate passing a comprehensive immigration bill, FIRM organizers said they will move to a second round of activism aimed at punishing lawmakers in the midterm elections in the fall.
"We are not going to let up," said Steven Choi, a New York immigration lawyer and FIRM member. "The arc of escalation will be bold and go through the entire country."
The AFL-CIO has actively supported immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants because labor leaders believe employers are exploiting illegal immigrants in ways that bring down wages and benefits for many workers.
Trumka cited his own story as the grandson of Polish immigrants and whose family faced prejudice when they arrived in the Pittsburgh areas, where his grandfather and father worked in coal mines.
"Employers tried to cheat them out of wages, denied them the rights they were entitled to, called them names, looked down on them that somehow we were lesser people, or inferior people," Trumka said. "That's just one generation ago. I know exactly what you are going through."
He added: "Just remember, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how many people oppose us, just remember that we will last one day longer, and we will win because we are right."
Magallela Morales, 33, of Springfield, Mass., a mother of two whose husband was deported to Guatemala six years ago, was among a group that later met privately with Trumka.
Trumka, she said, told them that "if he gets the chance to speak with the president, he will present the names of our loved ones who are in detention and ask that he stop their deportations."