“Sanctuary union”: American Fed. of Teachers to protect undocumented students
Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers addresses an immigration reform rally in Washington, D.C. | New York State United Teachers

You’ve heard of sanctuary cities, right? Welcome to what may become the nation’s first “sanctuary union,” the American Federation of Teachers.

In a recent statement, the union vowed to protect undocumented students, teachers, and staff from deportation plans if and when the incoming Republican Trump administration puts them into effect.

If so, AFT would join a growing movement in major cities – including New York and Chicago, places where it is the dominant teachers union – to resist the mass deportation plans Trump advocated during his presidential campaign.

The issue is important to teachers, students, and their families. The Pew Research Center calculates three million of the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. nationwide are children, including students. It adds 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. (There are no numbers available for the numbers of undocumented teachers and school staffers.)

Citing census data, Pew adds 59 percent of all undocumented people – students and adults – live in six states: California, with 814,000, New York, Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, and Florida. Two-thirds of the adults have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade.

AFT plans to protect them and their kids. A check on the nation’s other teachers union, the National Education Association, shows it has yet to decide on a course of action vis-à-vis undocumented people. But two big joint AFT-NEA affiliates, in San Francisco and Los Angeles, have also told members about AFT’s initiative.

“In classrooms and on campuses across the nation, undocumented immigrants, from preschoolers to college students, are terrified. Immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and visa-contingent educators are also worried that changing immigration policies could jeopardize their safety,” AFT explained.

DACA is Democratic President Barack Obama’s program, implemented several years ago, to protect young undocumented people brought to the U.S. years ago by their parents, who are now in school, working, or in the military. Trump may well dump it.

Union President Randi Weingarten told a telephone town hall on Nov. 22 that AFT will “do everything in our power to stop any kind of action against our immigrant families, our Muslim families, our Latino families and especially our undocumented students.” Some of the listeners on the conference call were undocumented, the union said. Specifically, AFT pledged to support the sanctuary cities, including those that establish municipal ID programs to protect immigrants with no identification from being detained unnecessarily. The AFT will also “help union members establish and maintain sanctuary status” in schools, colleges and cities.

Further, it promised to “provide guidance and resources for teachers and staff to support and prepare undocumented students and their families for changes in immigration law – including basic ‘know your rights’ advice” on how to handle immigration raids and detentions. It’s also urging governments “to reaffirm that children cannot be barred from enrolling in public schools based on their immigration status or their parents.

The union will also sponsor a “national week of mobilization, education and action Jan. 9-14” on the issue, spearheaded by the “Dreamers,” as well as a day of action on Jan. 19, along with a pro-teacher citizens group. Other details are on the AFT’s website.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jarvis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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