January 2017 Issue
December 19, 2016

Union leaders pledge to protect undocumented students, educators

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

As President-elect Donald Trump promises tougher immigration policies, union leaders are stepping up to support the millions of undocumented immigrants in schools and on campuses — from preschoolers to college students. Thousands of immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status and visa-contingent educators are also worried that changing immigration policies could jeopardize their safety.

With materials provided by our national affiliate the American Federation of Teachers, NYSUT is pulling together resources for teachers, staff and faculty.

"Our members are on the front lines every day, hearing heartbreaking stories and trying to reassure students and their families," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "We know that many of our students are scared and are naturally turning to our members for information and support."

United Federation of Teachers educators said a number of their undocumented students expressed fears that a Trump presidency meant they could face deportation.

Thomas Hasler of International High School at Union Square in Manhattan shared one student's concerns "that her dream of going to college died ... and that her parents were talking about moving back to their home country because they were scared that once his policies were set into action, they will be put into a deportation center and moved out of the country. That our students feel those things is heartbreaking."

Higher education unionists are also speaking out on behalf of immigrant students and staff.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, called on officials to make CUNY a "sanctuary university" and refuse to provide information on the immigration status of undocumented students or sensitive information about CUNY faculty, staff or students to federal officials unless required by subpoena or court order. She called for policies prohibiting federal immigration enforcement on college campuses, and for increased resources to help those who feel at risk.

Bowen noted several thousand CUNY students are protected by DACA, a presidential executive order that grants reprieve from deportation and allows undocumented youth to work. "The revocation of DACA ... could rip apart students' families and destroy the lives they have worked to build for themselves against great odds," Bowen said in an open letter to CUNY Chancellor James Milliken.

Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions at SUNY, said the union supports protections for undocumented students and educators covered by the Deferred Action program.

"These students are part of our national higher education community here to pursue their career aspirations," Kowal said. "They should not have to live in fear of unwarranted deportation."

While faculty leaders at some SUNY campuses have called for sanctuary status, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said the policy must be considered on a system-wide basis.

AFT President Randi Weingarten assured members, some of whom are undocumented immigrants themselves, that the AFT will "do everything in our power to stop any kind of action against our immigrant families." AFT will:

• provide guidance and resources for teachers, staff and faculty to support and prepare undocumented students and their families for changes in immigration law, including basic "know your rights" advice on how to handle a raid and what to do if family members are detained;

• help members establish and maintain sanctuary status in schools, colleges and communities; and

• urge the government to reaffirm that children cannot be barred from enrolling in public schools based on their immigration status.

Resources are available via AFT's Share My Lesson (sharemylesson.com) and website (www.aft.org/our-community/immigration), including AFT's Guide for Educators and School Support Staff; 15 Things Educators and School Support Staff Can Do to Help Protect Undocumented Students and Families and 6 Things Educators Can Do to Create Welcoming Classrooms.