"This is about my parents, my family. My parents just celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, which is an accomplishment unto itself, especially in today's context. Yes, they celebrated twenty-five years together. But if the deportation rates do not end, I may not get to see them celebrate their twenty-sixth wedding anniversary, their twenty-seventh, their twenty-eighth."
"There's a family member of mine -- an uncle, who was deported, it was last year and the question when that came up was 'Should the entire family move to Mexico?' Some of my cousins, the sons and daughters of my aunt and uncle are struggling now: 'Should we stay, Should we all go together?' And so it's very personal for me; it's my own family, whether it's my parents, whether it's my aunts, uncles, cousins."
Guzman and other Dreamers are demanding that the President extend his recent executive order temporarily protecting the undocumented Dreamers -- mostly students -- to the rest of the undocumented community.
"President Obama has set that precedent of exercising his executive authority to end the deportation for a particular group, and that is for dreamers. Now that same precedent could then be extended to my parents, and to the rest of my community, to end these deportations and put the pressure on Congress to really get their act together, and work to pass the most humane immigration reform bill that our community needs... The people President Obama is deporting, if this bill were to go through, are future citizens."
Protecting Worker Rights
Marty Bennett, a peace and labor activist who lives in Sonoma County California, works closely with Guzman at the Northbay Organizing Project. Bennett, who is also affiliated with the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County which is part of a nationwide network called Jobs for Justice, was in Washington D.C. last week with Pablo Alvarado and Jesus Guzman. They lobbied members of Congress, mostly Democrats, to support humane immigration reform, and to urge them to resist any attempt to water it down, delay it or make it meaningless.
"Part of what we're doing is lobbying our Congress people and senators to ask, as this bill moves out of the Senate, hopefully by the July 4th weekend, and into the House, that there are certain provisions that we really want to see stay in it. We would like it to remain whole as is," Bennett said, adding: "there are certain provisions that we've been emphasizing with the Congress people... that have to do with immigrant worker rights."
Bennett said the Jobs for Justice network has been lobbying for specific labor protections, such as...
"...the so-called U visa that would protect the right of any undocumented worker to speak out about their labor rights, their right to organize, their right to form a union, and to be free from retaliation by the employer.
"And it's part of another piece of legislation that has been folded into comprehensive immigration reform called the Power Act. And, essentially, it would prevent employers from using immigration status as a club to break an organizing drive. And, it would give protections to undocumented workers who were exercising their labor rights."
Bennett said he is also lobbying Congress to legislatively reverse recent a court decision "that took away the right of undocumented workers to file a lawsuit against their employers, when they believed that their labor rights had been violated, and to get back pay, to get damages and other remedies through the courts. The Senate restores that right to undocumented workers."
In the case of the thousands of undocumented women who work in private households, the physical violence regularly includes beatings, sexual assault and rape.
Ai-jen Poo, co-director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance -- who in 2012 was honored as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world -- has spent a decade organizing on behalf of domestic workers. That struggle culminated in the passage of the groundbreaking Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York State, which earned her the informal title of "the Nannies' Norma Ray."
I spoke with Ai-Jen Poo last April about the multiple dangers undocumented women face as domestic workers. She said the risks that domestic workers take when they speak out are great, but more and more women are speaking out and putting themselves in harm's way by doing so. "I see the most incredible acts of courage every single day in our work force," she said.
Ai-Jen Poo said it is particularly dangerous for women working in private households. "What we've seen is the work force is incredibly vulnerable," she said. "The work force is very isolated, working in individual scattered homes around the country. ... No one knows really where they are or which households have domestic workers. So there's a high degree of vulnerability and a legacy of exclusion and discrimination."
Pablo Alvarado is convinced that it is only the actions of grassroots groups in Washington and around the country that have made the issue of mass deportations a subject of debate. He said...
"It is back in discussion because people have fought, [because] undocumented people and their allies have fought back, at all levels, in court, at the work place, in churches, at universities, in the streets, and we've built a real powerbase. That's why this debate is back. So now, we have to make sure that we utilize our power the right way, so that the proposal that is on the table is as inclusive as possible."
Guzman and some other "Dreamers," who were at the White House last week in support of an immigration reform bill before Congress, thought they would have a brief chance to raise the issue of mass deportations with the President, but he gave some brief remarks, smiled for the cameras and then was quickly hustled out of the room. This apparently only increased the resolve of the young Dreamers to take whatever peaceful action they can to fight for what they believe is right and just.