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AFT resolution calls for halt to deportations

The AFT has called for a moratorium on low-priority deportations and is demanding that President Obama exercise his executive powers to end the tragic separation of families that is occurring as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deports an average of 1,200 people per day.

Meeting in New Orleans Feb. 10-12, the AFT executive council passed a resolution that reiterates the AFT's support for comprehensive immigration reform and a road map to citizenship for some 11 million aspiring Americans. This is a cause that has brought the AFT into a coalition of labor, social justice, faith-based, and civil and human rights organizations. Passing comprehensive reform would advance the "dignity, respect, rights and education of all immigrant workers and their families in the United States," the resolution says.

With the resolution, the AFT is leading its allies in ramping up the pressure to fix the nation's broken immigration system. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship last summer, but the House of Representatives has since failed to act.

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) showed where he and House Republicans stand, stating that he wouldn't trust President Obama to enforce border security should an immigration bill pass. Ironically, President Obama has done more to tighten border control than any prior president and is on a course to hit the mark of 2 million deportations before the spring is out.

Deportation is a harsh reality that millions of families live with on a daily basis. The threat that a member of our students' or fellow workers' families will be arrested, and that loved ones will be separated for years, causes "traumatic and psychological suffering for children and families," says the AFT resolution. It notes that "granting relief and easing the deportation crisis is within the powers of the executive office," as the president showed when he exercised his executive authority in June 2012 to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This has allowed 400,000 eligible individuals to find some certainty for the first time in their lives.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently proposed that, while the House of Representatives dithers, the White House could provide an incentive to act by administratively halting deportations of those who would be on a path to citizenship under the immigration reform bill the Senate has already passed. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the authors of the Senate bill, has suggested that a House bill could set the start date for enforcement in 2017, when a new president that Republicans might find more "trustworthy" on border enforcement would be in office. In an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, the important thing is to fix our broken system, and only Congress can do that by passing a bill to send to the president.

Comprehensive immigration reform advocates are turning up the pressure. On Feb. 6-7, more than 100 communicators and advocates for immigration reform met at AFT headquarters in Washington, D.C., to craft aggressive strategies to keep that goal before the eyes of the public and Congress. Sponsored by the Alliance for Citizenship, the meeting brought together communicators from groups as varied as Nuns on the Bus, the National Immigration Law Center, and the AFT and other labor organizations. They also interacted with journalists from the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post and Telemundo.

"People are down for continuing the fight," says Sue Chinn, campaign manager for the Alliance for Citizenship. "The movement ‎is stronger than ever. We've accomplished so much since the election. From having a candidate who ‎said 'self-deportation' was the answer, to now having 'the pathway to citizenship' being a part of the lexicon, we've taken huge steps forward."

She added that immigration rights groups are keeping up the drumbeat for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship through such actions as the Fast for Families, district lobbying campaigns, rallies and high-profile arrest actions like the one AFT President Randi Weingarten participated in last fall. "One thing we are sure of is that they won't do anything unless we ‎keep fighting.‎"

Keep informed about upcoming actions and events at go.aft.org/immigration.

[Barbara McKenna]