Latino labor conference turns into pro-Dreamers, anti-Trump march
Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, and LCLAA board member Sergio Rascon of the Laborers union at the march. Chris Garlock | Metro DC Central Labor Council.

WASHINGTON — Led by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and urged on by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., delegates and leaders of Labor’s Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) converted the first half day of their two-day convention in D.C. into a pro-Dreamer anti-Donald Trump march.

The conclave, planned long before, coincidentally began on September 6, the day after Trump and his anti-Latino Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, threw out the futures of 800,000 young undocumented people, most of them Latino, by canceling the Obama administration’s five-year-old DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.

Among the marchers chants were “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” alternately in English and Spanish and “No Trump, No KKK, No Racist USA!” along with “Ho, ho, hey, hey, immigrants are here to stay!” Led by Trumka and Federation Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, the approximately 200 delegates paraded from the AFL-CIO to a rally in front of the White House before descending on Sessions’ Justice Department. They paused at Trump’s D.C. hotel to denounce him there.

At the Justice Department, a group of pro-immigration advocates who bused in from Chicago joined them, bringing a bit of street theater: A tall papier maché statue of Sessions, a former Alabama senator, dressed in a Confederate general’s uniform complete with sword and festooned with a plaque reading: “Jefferson Beauregard Sessions: A living monument to white supremacy.” When they got to the Justice Department, the marchers pulled the statue down.

Sessions’ parents had named him for Confederate President Jefferson Davis and rebel Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, whose troops fired the first shots of the Civil War, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

“The rallies have been very, very powerful and the protests have been very, very massive,” Trumka told the crowd in impromptu remarks. “We’ve been taking back our country for every last worker out there – taking it back from those who want to divide us and from those who want to keep us down.”

Trump, Trumka said, “wants to give freedom to a convicted felon, Joe Arpaio,” the former Maricopa County (Phoenix, Ariz.) sheriff facing jail for contempt of court. Arpaio defied judicial bans on racial profiling of Hispanics and massive mistreatment of detainees. After his mention of Trump’s pardon of Arpaio drew boos, Trumka drew the contrast: “Now he’s taking freedom from law-abiding Americans.”

Instead of punishing the Dreamers – people brought to the U.S. as children who have since become students, military service members, college graduates and workers contributing to their communities and the country – Trump should honor them, Trumka contended.

But since he won’t, “We’ll stand with them every single day until they get citizenship,” Trumka vowed. “We won’t back down and we won’t back up!”

“Yesterday, the person in that house across the street declared war on Latino and immigrant families. We are here to say Ya basta! Enough is enough! And to commit to organize for the rest of our lives,” declared LCLAA President Milton Rosado.

That means using every tactic in the union toolkit, he added including voter registration, get-out-the-vote drives and boycotts to win rights for the Dreamers. After returning to the AFL-CIO in the afternoon, delegates spent the rest of the day strategizing about how to, as the convention call put it, “Organize, mobilize and resist” Trump in particular and Anglo-Saxon white supremacy in general.

Trump’s action drew condemnation not just from union leaders and the Dreamers – some of whom spoke in front of the White House on both September 5 and September 6 – but business leaders, plus lawmakers from both parties. But whether Congress will do anything is unlikely.

There’s a dead-set anti-Latino anti-immigrant section of its ruling Republicans that blocked the Dream Act in 2010, which would have legalized the Dreamers, and blocked comprehensive immigration reform before that. Sessions, as a senator, led that anti-immigrant, anti-Latino congressional hate.

Caterina Velasquez, now a prominent Latina activist, Georgetown University’s first openly transgender graduate, and a Dreamer, explained what would happen to her if Trump deported her: Murder. As a transgender person, she would be in “fear for my life,” from either anti-LGBTQ forces in her birth country, Colombia, or from her own prejudiced father.

“But I’m no different than any other undocumented immigrant,” she continued. “We must all stand together. Because unless you’re a white gendered male, your rights are under attack” from Trump, Sessions and their allies, she stated.

“Any administration that pardons Joe Arpaio cannot come and talk to us about the rule of law,” said Nadia Dominguez of the Painters Union, who became a labor activist “even before I got my (naturalization) papers.” And, referring to Trump, she declared “a billionaire who profits from people’s exploited lives in China every day cannot talk to us about ‘good American jobs.’ That’s why we have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against this white supremacy agenda.”

“The sad thing is that proud American soldiers woke up yesterday in Afghanistan and Iraq and didn’t know when they come back here if they’d be deported or not,” said Will Attig of the Union Veterans Council. Added Cesar Moreno of the Teachers union: “We are unapologetic about our support for our undocumented students and families,” describing AFT’s moves to turn schools and hospitals into safe havens and to train the undocumented in how to combat federal raids.

Gutierrez urged the delegates, before the march began, to “draw a line in the sand” on the Dreamers issue and challenge lawmakers of both parties to cross it. And Gutierrez and the crowd both said Trump’s hatred expanded from the Dreamers to all Latinos. Referring to his own 14-year-old U.S.-born grandson, Gutierrez said: “Donald Trump wants to make him a criminal, a drug dealer and strip him of his rights.”

Polls show that DACA has deep support in the U.S. with 75 percent of Trump voters backing the program and more than 80 percent of the population overall favoring it.

“Alt-right” leader Steve Bannon of Breitbart News was totally out of sync with the public yesterday when he blasted Catholic bishops for their support of DACA, claiming, “they back illegal immigration because they haven’t been able to solve the crisis in their church, they count on illegal immigrants to fill their otherwise empty pews.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, characterized Bannon’s remarks as “disgraceful,” adding that he, the senator, was a Catholic himself and “proud of my church and proud of so many other churches and synagogues for their support of DACA. Isn’t that stand really what Christ was talking about?”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.