"Fed up" day laborers launch anti-deportation drive

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NORRISTOWN, Pa. (PAI) -- When Pilar Molina comes home from work at night, often after toiling for 10-12 hours at the family's tortilla bakery and store, her elder daughter, 9-year-old Caitlin, frequently has a question for her.

"Why isn't my Daddy home?"

The answer to that question, that Daddy has been in detention since the night he closed the store in Norristown, Pa., on Jan. 27 and was grabbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, has driven his wife, Pilar, into activism.

She's enthusiastically joining the National Day Laborers Organizing Network's campaign against detention and deportation of the undocumented workers. It's a drive that has AFL-CIO backing.

And it's a campaign that has advocates for the undocumented, the NDLON, the AFL-CIO and other groups prepared to take to the streets to demand President Barack Obama end the 1,100 daily deportations by ICE.

"We call on the administration to cease deportations of people who will soon be eligible for a long overdue roadmap to citizenship so the legislative process can proceed without prolonging the crisis," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says. "That is the sensible and humane thing to do. When a war is about to end, it makes sense to reach a cease-fire rather than extend the suffering needlessly."

But not for the Obama administration. Its agency, ICE, deports thousands even as the president continues to campaign for comprehensive immigration reform. The reform would include a 13-year torturous path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. The Senate passed reform with a bipartisan vote last year. The ruling House GOP refuses to consider it, or any other immigration measure, at all.

So NDLON and its allies started with a mass event for undocumented people proclaiming their cause, on March 8 in Chicago. There will be a 65-mile march between Phoenix and an Arizona detention center, events in at least 25 other cities, and a national day of action in D.C., with a march to the White House on April 5.

Family members of deportees and detainees - people such as Pilar Molina - will lead the campaign events, says NDLON Executive Director Pablo Alvarado. Faith-based and community groups and unions will join in, he told reporters.

NDLON is fed up with both political parties, Alvarado added. The Republicans hate the undocumented people and refuse to act, and the Democrats use the GOP opposition as an excuse to do nothing, he stated.

"The entire immigrant rights movement is united around stopping these deportations," Alvarado declared. Its original goal was to use mass pressure to move congressional Republicans to approve comprehensive immigration reform, but they have virtually given up on trying to influence those lawmakers, he explained.

So now they're targeting Obama, too. NDLON and its allies argue that he can stop the deportations with the stroke of a pen, despite what ICE - which Alvarado calls "a rogue agency" - thinks. ICE is often known for raiding plants, seeking undocumented workers, right when unions are trying to organize at the facilities.

"We've decided to place the suffering of the immigrants at the center of the debate" about reform, Alvarado says. "This is a declaration of independence from both political parties. It feels like there's been a bipartisan agreement to preserve the status quo: The Republicans set the agenda of hatred and the Democrats implement it."

So, Alvarado says, the marches will put both parties on notice that immigrants are up for electoral grabs, with resolution of the deportation issue a key factor in their decision. "This is immigrants' rights organizations and advocates speaking for themselves, not having others speak for them. We're sending a very clear message: 'Not any more,'" he says.

The real goal, as Pilar Molina put it, is to end the splits of families that deportations cause. Splits lead Caitlin to question whether her Daddy will be home for Father's Day and whether - if he isn't - the whole family will have to abandon its Norristown roots and move to Mexico, a land Caitlin Molina has never seen and doesn't know.

Her mother struggles to explain to Caitlin why her Daddy isn't home. Her 3-year-old sister is too young to understand the whole situation.

"She doesn't even know Spanish," Pilar Molina says of Caitlin. "She's afraid the other kids will bully her."

Photo: Herminia, beginning her hunger strike for her daugher who has been in Eloy for 5 months, being arrested alongside religious leaders, at the White House, February 17. National Day Laborer Organizing Network Facebook page.

 

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