Dafny Irizarry, Central Islip TA member and
Long Island Latino Teachers Association
president, advocates for equal education
opportunities for immigrant children.
Photo by Maria R. Bastone.
Hearing President Barack Obama commit to comprehensive immigration reform in his State of the Union speech was especially reassuring for Dafny Irizarry and other educators of immigrant children.
"For those parents who have to worry about losing their job because they go to their child's school, it's encouraging to hear the president speak so strongly about allowing our students and their families a path to citizenship," said Irizarry, a member of the Central Islip Teachers Association.
She teaches fifth-graders who are English language learners at Mulligan Intermediate School. Irizarry is also president of LILTA, an association of Long Island Latino educators.
She advocates for immigration reforms that will provide students with equal access to quality educational opportunities.
"Families who live in fear of being deported cannot fully support their children's education," Irizarry said. "There are so many examples where that fear doesn't allow parents to be involved and engaged before we even begin to discuss equal opportunity."
For educators like Irizarry and NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, the issue is a top priority. Under current law, thousands of undocumented students graduate from New York high schools and can be denied access to in-state tuition, federal loans and health benefits.
"They deserve an opportunity to attend college," said Neira, who represents the American Federation of Teachers on the AFL-CIO committee on immigration.
Neira said the nation needs immigration laws that promote safe and secure jobs for all workers, preserve family unity and allow immigrant children to go to school without fear.
"The abuse of immigrant workers injures us all," Neira said. "The exploitation of immigrant workers and their families harms us all. This abuse and exploitation exist because we do not have strong protections for worker standards and worker rights."
NYSUT and its national affiliates, the AFL-CIO, the AFT and National Education Association, all support comprehensive immigration reform.
"Whether it's the realization that a nation made great by immigrants has a moral imperative to live up to our American values of democracy and opportunity, or because it's sound economic policy, or because it's just the right thing to do for hardworking families, reforming our immigration system makes sense," AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote.
The AFL-CIO has stepped up efforts to support President Obama's proposals. Labor has launched a mass nationwide campaign to emphasize citizenship and worker rights for the nation's 11 million undocumented workers.
Besides giving law-abiding undocumented workers already in the United States a chance to legalize their status by paying back taxes and fines, the president also proposes:
Protection against retaliation for undocumented workers who exercise their labor rights;
A "labor law enforcement fund" to help ensure that industries that employ significant numbers of immigrant workers comply with labor laws;
A five-year phase-in of mandatory electronic employment verification, with exemptions for certain small businesses; and
Issuance of a fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant Social Security card and a requirement that workers use fraud- and tamper-resistant documents to prove authorization to work in the United States.
President Obama also proposes stiffer penalties for employers who knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants, and streamlining the legal immigration system.
"It is time to pass a common-sense, comprehensive program that puts our nation on track toward long-term economic security and social stability," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.
The AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently developed a common set of principles to guide Congress in its deliberations. Go to www.aflcio.org and click on "Press Room" to see the joint statement.