UFT Immigration Forum Report-back
By Marjorie Stamberg
15 May 2017
About 200 people attended this forum, which was moderated by journalist Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now, formerly Daily News), and had seven panelists including representatives from the city, and Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. The urgency of this meeting was heightened by last Thursday’s occurrence when two I.C.E. agents arrived at PS 58 in Maspeth, Queens demanding to talk to a fourth grader! The school, following the New York City and NYC Department of Education protocol, did not let them in. This was the first time I.C.E. had tried to enter NYC schools.
UFT President Mike Mulgrew introduced the event and said, we heard what happened . We are teachers. Once a kid comes into our classroom, they are our kids. That’s who they are. We won’t stand aside when they come for our kids, we won’t let that happen. Grandstanding, of course, but useful that he said it. Mulgrew introduced Gonzalez, who chaired the meeting and introduced seven speakers we had to sit through for ages until he opened the Q&A.
First the punch-lines, details later. Most importantly, the union bureaucracy is feeling pressure to actually STOP the I.C.E. from coming into the schools, and claims it will defend those who do.
I was the last speaker. Gonzalez had clearly been warned off me, avoiding eye contact and calling on lots of others, although I sat in the front with a bright purple scarf, waving my hand around to no avail. He also kept repeating, only questions, no comments. Finally I just stood up and took the floor, and Gonzalez ceded to me. Since everyone (including Weingarten) had made a big deal about how people rushed to the airport on when Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban went into effect, I started out:
“I was at JFK airport that night, when we were all there, mobilizing and chanting ‘let them in.’ So we have formed a UFT committee at our school to support immigrant students, and this is very important. First, to Randi, talking about the danger of Trump, this is not just about the Republicans. There were five million people deported under Obama. So we have to mobilize, and on our own policy.
“I am speaking because the City and DOE policy is wrong. It is not good enough to say the I.C.E. can only come in if they have a signed judicial warrant. Because that means they can come in if they have a warrant that there is a ‘crime.’ This allows the NYPD to come in with its ‘Broken Windows’ policy. They say these are crimes, like jumping turnstiles, or sitting in a park after if you are homeless. They’re criminalizing poverty, they are ‘crimes’ of racism. We need to say I.C.E. out of New York, I.C.E. out of the schools. Period.”
I thought the room would erupt with catcalls and screams, as it usually does at the UFT Delegate Assembly. Instead there was applause. I thought they would shut me down with the Obama point, but a lot of heads were nodding. And there seems to be widespread concern about the DOE/NYC policy of “they can’t come in unless…..” “What happens if they satisfy the ‘unless clause,’ what happens then? ” Several teachers and counselors came up to me asking that after the meeting, expressing support for what I had said.
After I spoke, two important indicators happened. In response to my intervention, Evelyn De Jesus, the UFT vice president for bilingual education and convenor of the forum, said the UFT is having a training in September about civil disobedience and “know your rights,” handing out fliers about that. It turns out that this reflects a policy decision.
Then, as the meeting was breaking up, Randi Weingarten took the mike and said, she knew people were leaving, but she wanted to respond to me. “Marjorie, I want to tell you there are a lot of courageous people out there. We are doing civil disobedience training. So if you want to put up a line of civil disobedience and not let I.C.E. cross it, we will defend you.” (Of course, Randi has said a lot of things over the years that she conveniently forgets later. But this might actually help us organizing if teachers hear the AFT is on record.) She went on to justify the city policy, that the city was doing what it could to put up obstacles to I.C.E. coming into the schools, etc.
Specifics about the speakers’ remarks:
Juan Gonzalez, Moderator
He said he was now a member of the AFT at Rutgers University. He retired from the NY Daily News last year and became a professor of journalism at Rutgers. He still is on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. He said he went to Franklin K. Lane HS and his old social studies teacher is still here in the UFT (George Altomare, an old Shachtmanite).
He said that today Human Rights Watch reported that in California alone, every year there are 10,000 undocumented parents being detained whose children are U.S. citizens. He referred to the case of Austin, Texas city councilman Gregorio Cesar who was arrested protesting Texas’ new law banning “sanctuary cities.” Said the sanctuary cities and the federal government were on a collision course. He said crime rates are down in sanctuary cities showing the important of “community policing” Ugh.
Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs
She talked about the “success” of the NYC ID, and their work partnering with schools to “know their rights.” I called out that the NYC ID was very problematic, and the City Council panelist agreed, and said we need to discuss it. (NYC gave out IDs to about 80,000 people and kept their names on file; Staten Island right-wingers then sued to preserve the files, obviously in order to be used by I.C.E. to deport people). After Gonzalez asked about concerns that it was being used to target immigrants, Agarwal said the case was now in appeals court, but they had won the first round that the files could be destroyed. She said files are no longer being kept after the ID is issued.
Steve Choi, Executive Director, NYC Immigration Coalition
Said they were an umbrella agency for 175 organizations across the state. (The NYCIC is run by the Chinatown Democratic Party of Margaret Chin, whose core came out of the Maoist Communist Workers Party back in the day.) He wants Governor Cuomo to declare that NY is a “sanctuary state.” (Fat chance that, Cuomo is running for president!) With Trump’s infamous Muslim ban, the president has declared war on immigrants. Lawyers rushed to JFK and so did the grassroots. Now we focus on protection in the schools, because they are the most trusted and safest places, places where undocumented immigrant parents trust and will go to. Said the NYC/DOE protocol on I.C.E. not coming in without a signed judicial warrant was stronger than their first letter.
Carlos Menchaca, Chair, NYC City Council on Immigration
Said he agreed with my point about the NYC ID, and later also on the dangers of NYPD “broken windows,” and the need for discussion on these questions.
Jose Luis Perez, Deputy General Counsel, Latino Justice
This was formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. Said the feds have a big need for more agents for immigration enforcement; since they don’t have it yet, they are whipping up a climate of fear. Everywhere he goes the fear is palpable. I.C.E. says their agents are not supposed to go into the schools, churches or health care facilities. But they are emboldened, they are going into the courthouses to engage in arrests. The chief judge of NY should say we don’t want you in our courts. Other states have said this, we’re New York, we should be in the lead. Said looming collision with feds and the sanctuary cities. Said that it is probable that Trump’s threat to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities” is unconstitutional. Lawyers are working on this.
Tania Romero, school social worker, Flushing International High School
Immigrant dropout rate is increasing. Parents are fearful to come to school even for “know your rights” forums. They are working on education, developing curriculum and having professional development sessions on immigration issues and offering advocacy and social support. (I want to push for a schoolwide PD on immigration, as Flushing International has.) 50% of Flushing International HS is undocumented. Many Central Americans who came in under the “unaccompanied minor” category. Biggest ethnic group in the school is Chinese.
Pakistani Student from Flushing International High School
Her name is Faisa. Spoke of facing discrimination in school every day. For instance, if other kids complain about the school cafeteria food, or do something bad, nobody says it’s because of their religion, that’s them as individuals. If she complains, “it’s the Muslim girl.”
Carimer Andujar, President UndocuRutgers
A DACA “dreamer.” Importantly, she was called into I.C.E. for an interview last week. Gonzalez, who is in the AFT at Rutgers mobilized and they had scores of AFTers and others show up in court with her. This, said Gonzalez, most likely was the factor that kept Carimer from being detained.
Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers
The most political of all the speeches. Said Trump won because most people only saw him from The Apprentice. He ran as a populist, governs as a corporatist. Said 80 % of AFT members voted for Hillary. She endlessly dropped names of Democratic Party bigwigs, Schumer, Gillibrand, Pelosi etc. and how they’re supposedly resisting DeVos and Trump’s cuts.
There was Q&A, uneventful, until I got finally recognized. Two teachers came from my school, form the bilingual division on the Lower East Side (Tenzer site), Elga and Melissa.
A black UFTer came up to me afterwards, and said, well, there’s a lot of pushing of civil disobedience for next year, but she wanted UFT leadership to know that there are raids in Brooklyn every weekend. I said where exactly? She said Church Avenue. (Not sure she is distinguishing between I.C.E. and NYPD.)
Final thought: We have written that in case a student or their family is arrested for deportation, the UFT should seek to mobilize mass labor-immigrant action to protest and stop deportations. If such a case occurs, it is quite possible that there will be spontaneous high school walkouts. In that case, those of us in the union who are fighting to defend immigrants should immediately bring as many teachers and staff as possible to be with them.