After promising to deport millions of immigrants and block refugees escaping conflict on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump began acting on his threats shortly after his January inauguration.
That same week students, union members, civil rights activists and faith leaders across the country organized rallies across the country to demonstrate that immigrants and refugees are “here to stay.” Events coordinated by the national United We Dream coalition took place in Chicago, Houston, Washington D.C. and here in Connecticut in New Haven, Danbury and Willimantic.
“We represent the fight for the soul of our communities, our families and our schools,” Wally de Sousa (right) on January 20 told a crowd of over 200 in Willimantic. The bilingual educator at Natchaug Elementary School and member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Windham Federation of Teachers shared her own story personal of emigrating to the U.S. She praised town council members for showing “compassion and understanding” in passing a “sanctuary city” resolution earlier that week — and urged the same from federal elected leaders.
Also speaking at the Willimantic rally was Emmanuel Perez-DeAyala (left), a veteran paraeducator at Windham High School. Families in attendance erupted in applause as the president of our Windham Federation of Education Personnel pledged to “stand with you in protecting your children in our schools.” He spoke on behalf of the district’s paras, tutors and classroom support staff in committing to “make sure they are safe and not taken away from you.”
for press coverage of the Willimantic event.
Within a week of the nationwide rallies, the president issued executive orders stripping federal resources from local sanctuary communities and banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“As a grandchild of immigrants who left the Ukraine and Russia because of repression and oppression, I must speak up,” said national AFT President Randi Weingarten on the ban. “As a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust because no country, including the United States, would embrace refugees, I must speak up,” she added.
for Weingarten’s full response to the order blocking refugees.
Weingarten in a late November tele-town hall with union leaders from across the country had already laid out an action plan to provide aid and support for immigrant communities. She outlined collaborative efforts with leading social justice and children’s advocacy groups like the National Immigration Law Center and First Focus to protect families living in fear and uncertainty.
The plan includes:
- Support for local communities such as Willimantic, New Haven, Hartford and Middletown as they reaffirm sanctuary status for their resident immigrants;
- Resources for members seeking to establish and maintain sanctuary status in schools, colleges and communities;
- Guidance for teachers, staff and faculty to support and prepare undocumented students and their families for changes in immigration law;
- Lesson plans to address the social, emotional and mental health needs of all children and promote diversity and inclusion; &
- Legislative advocacy to reaffirm that children cannot be barred from enrolling in public schools based on their immigration status — or their parents’.
for a guide for educators on supporting and protecting immigrant youth and their families.
In spite of the challenges at the national level, union members and social justice activists here in Connecticut are continuing efforts to advance immigrant students’ access to higher education opportunities. Once again they have teamed up to back the “Afford to Dream Act,” proposed legislation that would remove obstacles to institutional financial aid at community colleges and state universities.
“It is foolish to deny undocumented students access to the education that leads to good-paying jobs,” AFT Connecticut Executive Vice President John Brady (right) said last month at the campaign’s public launch. “The current law is not just economically unwise, it is also profoundly unfair,” added Brady, a registered nurse (RN) who cared for patients in Backus Hospital’s emergency department.
for press coverage of the “Afford to Dream” launch.
Support for “DREAMers” in their fight for equity by our member educators, caregivers and public employees is a clear demonstration of the labor movement’s enduring values; fairness, respect and solidarity. In the face of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment at the national level, those values will become increasingly more important to both practice and uphold.
to learn more and sign up for “Afford to Dream” campaign updates.