Protesters rallied in front of Republican Party headquarters on East Franklin Avenue and marched to downtown Minneapolis on September 5 in response to the Trump administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Union and worker center activists were among the peaceful, diverse marchers that filled the street in a crowd estimated at 400-500 by the Pioneer Press and 1,000 by the StarTribune.
DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for temporary but renewable protection from deportation. The program also allowed “Dreamers,” as these youth are often called, to get valid driver's licenses, attend college and work legally. The Trump administration's decision to phase out the Obama policy prevents any new individuals from submitting applications and will leave current DACA recipients at risk of deportation.
Many Dreamers have no memory of any home but the United States. Catalina Morales a DACA recipient, college student and ISAIAH organizer came to the U. S. when she was 2 years old.
“We’re fighting for people who have contributed their whole lives to this country," she said. "I am blessed that DACA gave me a voice, but it is also not good enough for our communities. I want my parents to have documents so they'lll have the same chance I've had to succeed in life."
Kera Peterson, Political Director of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, explained that “800,000 students and workers across the country currently protected by DACA are potentially impacted by this termination. And I want to be out here and I want to be helpful.”
The AFL-CIO moved from a previously anti-immigrant stance to championing immigrant rights during the early 21st Century, influenced in part by Hotel and Restaurant Emplyees Local 17’s successful St. Paul Holiday Inn Express campaign in 2000. The Local 17 protests halted the deportation of undocumented negotiating team members who had been turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) by the employer.
The national labor federation's changed policy resulted in support for the 2003 Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride along with many international and local unions. Buses of immigrant union members and supporters from all over the country converged on Washington D.C and New York City to lobby for an end to harassment and a path to citizenship. The action was a catalyst for a movement to pass the DREAM Act starting in 2001. The bi-partisan Act would have provided Dreamers the chance for permanant legal residence, however Congress repeatedly failed to pass it. President Obama issued DACA as a compromise executive order in 2012.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reacted to Trump’s dismantling of the program:
“Ending DACA will increase the pool of vulnerable workers in our country and embolden employers to retaliate against working men and women who dare to organize on the job or speak out against abusive working conditions. This indefensible act will make our workplaces less fair and less safe and will undermine our freedom to join together and fight to raise wages and standards."
Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of Service Employees International Union Local 26, a co-host organization of the Minneapolis rally, commented, “Rescinding DACA is relevant to all of labor just as it is to the whole country, principally because it’s a signal of just how broken our immigration system is in ways that hurt immigrant workers, but also hurt all workers, their families and the broader community. This is why we need to get it fixed.”
Businesses and labor have found rare common ground in their support for Dreamers and a more coherent immigration system. A 2016 report on the economic impact of DACA was sponsored by both the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, among others. The study found that DACA recipients contribute an additional $7 million a year to Minnesota’s tax revenue. The study continues that, "a legalization program "that offered unauthorized immigrants an eventual path to citizenship...would result in additional tax revenues of $17.5 million per year.”
“Displacing DACA folks will have a really severe impact on higher education and on a bunch of industries like healthcare,” Morillo-Alicea noted. The total impact of ending DACA would cost Minnesota more than $367 million in annual GDP losses, according to the Center for American Progress.
Minnesota Nurses Association staff educator Megan Gavin joined Tuesday’s march because of personal connections.
“I’m here because I have friends and colleagues who work with kids in the Minneapolis public schools under DACA. We need to have them there as part of our community. They are folks here contributing to our society, using their skills, and to tell them they can’t be part of Minnesota anymore is not acceptable.”
Daniel Sosa came to Minnesota from Mexico when he was 7 months old and is now enrolled at South Central College in Mankato.
“I’m a DACA recipient and now they’re trying to take it apart. So, in January 2019 my DACA will expire and then I won’t have a driver’s license, I won’t be able to go to school, I won’t be able to work anymore.”
“The labor movement will stand with these brave young workers and fight for legislation so that the contributions they make are celebrated, rather than assaulted,” said President Trumka. “We will push for a pathway to citizenship and continue to oppose enforcement policies that discriminate and generate fear in our workplaces and communities.”
“So it’s really important to get DACA back,’ said Sosa. “If we all work together, we can get another program going.”
For legal and advocacy resources, see the National Immigration Law Center website.