Education International
Education International

USA: Union leaders arrested while defending immigrant rights

published 15 October 2013 updated 17 October 2013

EI’s national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), have condemned trade union leaders’ arrests during marches to demand a vote on comprehensive immigration reform in their country.

AFT President Randi Weingarten and the Vice-President of New York State United Teachers and AFT Vice-President, Maria Neira, were among 200 labour, civil rights, faith and immigrant leaders arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the Concert and March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect held on 8 October in Washington DC.

AFT: Great injustice led to civil disobedience

For years, the AFT has stood in solidarity with immigrant workers and advocated to advance comprehensive immigration reform.

Headed to the police station, Weingarten stated: “There are times when injustice is so great that there is no other choice but to be civilly disobedient. This is one of those times. From the students who have never known a home beyond the United States to the teachers who want all their students to have equal opportunities, our broken immigration system is a huge obstacle for AFT members, students and the families they serve. That is why we are working to reclaim the promise for all who make America home - regardless of where they were born.”

NEA: Educational opportunities hit by dysfunctional immigration system

NEA Executive Director John Stocks was also arrested during this march.

Admitting to “an act of peaceful civil disobedience”, he explained that he was “moved to act because our dysfunctional immigration system is breaking up families and disrupting the education of too many young people”.

For too long, educators have witnessed the impact that the current immigration system has had on students, families, and communities in the US, he stressed.

Students deserve chance to pursue dreams

He gave the example of David, an aspiring American born in Bolivia.

“At a young age, he witnessed his grandmother's battle with cancer and decided that he wanted to become a doctor,” Stocks said. “David moved to the United States without his parents, enrolled himself in school, and worked while going through high school.  But he realised he could not pursue his dream because of his legal status. Then, one day, he met a teacher who inspired him and challenged him to pursue his dream despite his status.”

Because his teacher showed the care, love and dedication that educators display day in and day out, David graduated at the top of his class, and is today attending an Ivy League school on a full scholarship, Stocks highlighted proudly.

“This is why educators are in this fight. We want all of our students to be able to pursue their dreams. They deserve the opportunity. The US House of Representatives holds the key to open the door for aspiring Americans like David.”

US education unions are calling on their members to exert pressure on their politicians and demand a vote in the House of Representatives for a new immigration reform.

EI: Immigration good for quality education

EI has expresses its support for colleagues in the US. “We support our US affiliates in their struggle to ensure that Congress recognises the contributions immigrants have made, are making and will continue to make by passing a comprehensive reform bill - one that includes a pathway to educational opportunity and citizenship for students and families,” EI General secretary Fred van Leeuwen said.

“EI believes that immigration is beneficial for a society, in the US or anywhere else around the globe,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “Mobility promotes cultural and information exchange, innovation, and the creation of vital international networks improving the quality of education systems and stimulating economic development in both the sending and receiving countries.”

He also underlined “the fundamental role which could be played by quality public education, based on values aimed at building citizenship for everyone in the processes of the positive integration of immigrants”. Trade unions have a major role to play to ensure that policies protecting and guaranteeing migrant teachers’ and students’ rights are adopted, van Leeuwen added.

No discrimination against migrant students and teachers

The EI Resolution on Teacher Migration and Mobility, adopted at the 6th EI World Congress in 2011, also encourages the governments of the receiving countries to take specific measures to ensure that all the children (including children of migrants with or without documentation) have the right to a quality education, in equal conditions.

An EI Teacher Migration Taskforce also comprises representatives from both source and destination countries. It is developing a virtual Global Network of Migrant Teachers, facilitating the sharing of information and ideas on this topic.

The 2011 EI Resolution on Teacher Migration and Mobility is available here.

AFT video on Weingarten’s arrest:

NEA video about the rally for immigration reform for students, families, and aspiring Americans: