America is a country of immigrants
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President Trump ran on campaign promises that threatened immigrant communities and talked of deporting millions. Now the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recent memo makes clear that the administration is committed to keeping its promise of tearing families apart and making our country less safe.

In just the last two weeks, Daniel Ramirez-Medina, a 23-year-old recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient with no prior criminal record, was taken from his Seattle home and remains detained. Lupita Garcia de Rayos, who has lived in Arizona for more than two decades and is the mother of two children who are U.S. citizens, was deported after checking in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ervin Gonzalez, a transgender woman from El Paso, was apprehended in court by ICE while filing a domestic abuse claim, apparently tipped off by her abuser.

These actions are unacceptable and immoral.

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According to Homeland Security, more than 700 immigrants were swept up in so-called targeted enforcement operations earlier this month by ICE. These policies are having a profound impact in our classrooms, workplaces and communities. The administration claims these are all hardened criminals, but it’s clear that they are targeting the most vulnerable — mothers, students and crime victims.

 

These families aspire to do exactly what our parents and grandparents did when they came to America, which is to help build this great country into a beacon of freedom, hope and opportunity in the world. They are here seeking a better life and an opportunity to contribute to our economy and culture. Undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.6 billion to the economy annually, including nearly $7 billion in sales and excise taxes and $3.6 billion in property taxes.

Simply put, immigration is vital to our economic health.

Now, when children are dropped off at school, they are unsure if their parents will be there to pick them up at the end of the day. Workers showing up at their jobs to make ends meet are fearful that an ICE raid may whisk them out of their workplaces. Millions who are here to pursue the American dream are now targets of an unprecedented, large-scale mass deportation operation.

As a grandchild of immigrants who left the Ukraine and Russia because of repression and oppression, and now as the leader of the second-largest teachers union in the United States, I must speak up against these unjust raids. As a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust because no country, including the United States, would embrace refugees, I want to welcome immigrants, just like my family was welcomed generations ago. “Never again” must mean never again for everyone.

Born in Colombia, but growing up in a fully bilingual and bicultural home in the United States, my experience is so similar to many of the millions of people who are now vulnerable and threatened. I grew up in an immigrant farming community in California, and as we debate immigration policy, we must remember that immigrants are the economic and social backbone of our country. These policies will affect generations of Americans who want nothing more than to contribute to the country they call home.

In moments of great injustice, we can’t afford to be silent. That’s one reason why an educator and an activist are standing together. We are a nation of immigrants, and like the two of us, President Trump’s family came to America seeking a better, safer way of life.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is working hard across the country to protect children and families. In Houston, Lone Star College is sponsoring six immigration workshops, one at each of its major campuses. Pro bono immigration attorneys will help students and their families better understand how the president’s executive orders could affect them. In Austin, Pittsburgh and other cities, educators are providing know-your-rights resources and training to instruct students and their parents on what to do if they are targeted by ICE. In Milwaukee, when the sheriff announced his willingness to make his deputies ICE officers, educators joined thousands in a “Day Without Latinos,” when more than 150 businesses closed down in solidarity.

The AFT is providing online resources through Share My Lesson, Colorin Colorado and aft.org, all with bilingual guides on how to handle ICE raids, what educators can do to help students and families, and where to find legal advice.

Voto Latino is working tirelessly to ensure that Latinos and immigrants have all the resources and information they need to stay safe in their communities. Our 10 college campus chapters across the nation have received training on ensuring that all students, regardless of immigration status, are welcome and safe. We’re hosting calls with educators on best practices to support their undocumented students, and their students who come from undocumented families, and how to respond to ICE raids and enforcement.

Together, we are working to enforce and expand sanctuary city laws. Mayors, city officials, governors and those in positions of power need to pass sanctuary ordinances that protect residents from unjust federal immigration laws and bigotry. Sanctuary cities are not about harboring or protecting criminals. If someone commits a crime, he or she should be deported. But let’s not equate someone with a broken taillight with a dangerous criminal. Cities and states should be able to protect law-abiding immigrants living in their communities from unjust and harmful federal immigration policies. And if President Trump activates the National Guard to conspire in these raids, we call on governors to reject his orders and tell the Guard to stand down.

We cannot allow Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump looking at B cut to UN peacekeeping programs: report Pelosi blasts Trump’s ‘rookie error’ on ObamaCare repeal GOP Rep. Hunter under criminal campaign finance investigation MORE to threaten communities and divide Americans. It’s up to all of us to stand up for the values that have inspired generation after generation to come to our nation seeking a better life.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union of 1.6 million members. Maria Teresa Kumar is the founding president and chief executive officer of Voto Latino, a civic media organization.


The views expressed by the contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.