Briceño: Immigrants’ Rights Are Center Stage This Labor Day

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

An activist opposed to the expansion of a Santa Ana jail contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement is interviewed by a reporter with the Spanish-language station Estrella TV.

This Labor Day, I find myself thinking of “refuge.” I myself came to this country seeking refuge or, more exactly, asylum as a six-year-old, leaving behind my home country which was embroiled in civil war. Nicaragua, the only home I had ever previously known, had become dangerous, and the United States opened its arms to me and my family, and offered us safe haven.

When I became old enough to work, my union, UNITE HERE, became another haven for me as a young Latina. With my union job, I knew that I was more likely to earn a fair wage and decent benefits. It was with the union that I also learned to stand up and fight for myself, and to teach others how to do the same. For me organizing has meant that I could provide for myself and my son as a single mother, and that I went from being a front desk agent to becoming president of my local, and now co-president of one of the largest locals in my international union.

The labor movement, when at its best, has tied the fight for economic justice to civil rights. Leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez personify the strong link between labor and civil rights struggles. On this Labor Day, the fight to protect immigrants’ rights has taken center stage.

President Trump is deciding in the next few days the fate of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program that has offered 800,000 young people refuge in their adopted home country. DACA has meant that undocumented young people have been able to work and go to school without fear of deportation for the last 5 years. Just as decades ago the United States offered me a safe haven, so should it care for the young, talented new generation of immigrants, eager to work hard and build lives in their new country.

On this Labor Day, I challenge labor to be the loudest and strongest voice calling on the president to stand with DACAmented youth and their families. UNITE HERE pledges to continue the fight for immigrant rights and to push for comprehensive immigration reform. We urge our sisters and brothers in the broader social justice movement to do the same.

Ada Briceño is Co President of UNITE HERE Local 11 and a Vice President of the General Executive Board of UNITE HERE International Union, Co-Founder and Board Chair of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development. 

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