04/06/2015

New campaign will assist immigrant workers and families

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The AFL-CIO on April 2 officially launched "We Rise!" a national immigration initiative to reach, mobilize and organize immigrant workers to build power on the job and in the community.

We Rise will train union members and equip union halls around the country to empower immigrant workers and their families by helping them apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs. The program will also encourage qualified legal permanent residents to become U.S. citizens.

"President Obama's executive actions were the right thing to do, but we're not done yet," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says. "This progress can be stalled, but it cannot be stopped. With the launching of the We Rise initiative, we are moving forward."

We Rise logoThe We Rise national immigration initiative was launched with a three-day training in Washington, D.C. More than 200 union members, leaders and staff from 23 different unions, and activists from 27 states—including nearly 50 from the AFT—gathered to receive practical, hands-on training that will enable them to return to their communities with plans to assist qualified applicants with the DAPA, DACA and U.S. citizenship processes. (Visit the AFT website for more information on immigration reform.)

"You will be our trusted messengers to send the word out," AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker told a gathering of the AFT participants. "You can help unlock the potential of these executive actions."

In conjunction with the AFL-CIO training, the AFT launched its Reclaiming the Promise of the American Dream: Students, Parents and Educators Working Together on the Implementation of DACA and DAPA initiative the day before the other participants arrived. In collaboration with community partners, including United We DREAM, LCLAA, the Center for Popular Democracy, APALA and LULAC, the AFT will help eligible DACA and DAPA beneficiaries apply for deferred action in 23 cities in 16 states. More than 5 million people could potentially benefit from President Obama’s immigration executive actions.

"It is great to know there is assistance out there for workers who will benefit from citizenship and the DACA and DAPA programs," says Maria Dominguez, an AFT member who was helped by DACA and now works as a teacher in Austin, Texas. "With these programs, workers will finally be able to claim our rights at work, and parents of our students will stop being deported. This is just the beginning."

In February, a Texas judge issued a preliminary injunction against both immigration executive actions issued by Obama. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has set a hearing for April 17. (The AFT has joined an amicus brief in the case.) Trumka says this temporary setback will not deter the AFL-CIO's work to ensure as many workers as possible can eventually gain protections and work authorization under the new deferred action programs.

In addition to the AFT initiative, other unions in key states will open their halls to eligible workers, where they will learn more about their rights on the job, and meet trained volunteers and legal experts who will help them fill out their applications and answer any questions about both programs and the citizenship process.

In addition, Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, will launch "Working America We Rise!" This project will offer immigrant workers the opportunity to join the labor movement and receive benefits such as legal services, credit counseling, prepaid cards with a feature for remittances, and access to dental and vision discounts. Dues-paying Working America We Rise members are also eligible to apply for a $250 We Rise grant to help fund deferred action application fees.

During the past year, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions, including some AFT locals, have organized citizenship workshops in several cities. The We Rise initiative is a continuation of the labor movement's efforts to empower all workers by pushing for comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship.

[AFL-CIO, Dan Gursky]