Speech | Immigration

Trumka: Immigration Is About Coming Together

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at hearing on immigrant worker rights:

Good morning and thank you for being here. It is good to see so many unions represented in this room.

At our 2017 convention, delegates unanimously adopted Resolution 22, committing us to build community trust, which said and I quote: “Politicians attempting to distract from the real issues facing our nation have elevated efforts to criminalize and target immigrants to a level that puts our core democratic values and institutions at risk.”

Those efforts are ongoing. And those risks are growing more serious. Look at what happened in just the past seven days.

First, the Supreme Court let the White House get away with its public charge policy, which some call a wealth test, because it allows America to close our doors to legal immigrants who may not be high-earners. That’s a direct attack on working-class people—and would fundamentally change America’s primarily family-based immigration system to one that grants preference to the wealthy and privileged.

Then the Trump administration expanded its travel ban to six more countries, blocking one out of four people on the African continent from coming here, and turning away people from Myanmar—where countless refugees are seeking safety.

On top of all of this, two more people who came to our border to request asylum died in custody.

That’s only one week’s worth of news. Election Day is still 10 months away.

Brothers and sisters, immigration is going to be part of this campaign every single day. The forces dead set on destroying unions are going to use this issue to distract and divide us. When they’re not shouting about it, they’re whispering and dog-whistling.

So if we don’t tell the real story of how workers get ahead, how we need each other, all of us, to win justice and dignity at work, if we don’t spread that truth, we’ll be ceding the story to their messages of hate.

Brothers and sisters, not on our watch!

You don’t need me to tell you how the haters are trying to use immigration to tear us apart. You see it every day. You hear it every day. It’s on your TVs. It’s in your social feeds.

But here’s what they keep getting wrong about immigration: in America, immigration is about coming together. Union members and our families come from every country in the world, and our labor movement has trade union partners around the globe. These connections are a source of strength and vitality for our country, our workforce and our movement. Each new travel ban and hostile enforcement action imposed by this administration undermines our values, our competitiveness and our standing in the world.

But it will never—and I mean never—undermine our solidarity.

If we fracture, then we’re betraying our history as a labor movement, and we’re dooming our future. Because what we’re dealing with today is ugly, but it isn’t new. The mine owners in my hometown tried to divide us by language, by nationality, by religion. They had a dirty name for each and every one of us.

But guess what happened? Our grandparents pulled together as the United Mine Workers of America. They stood strong in solidarity despite different accents and origins. That union—my union—won good jobs—hope overcame hate—and America grew stronger as a result.

That was the labor movement at our best, and it’s what we need to do today.

Because when you attack immigrants, you attack workers. And we won’t stand for any of it!

We all have a stake in this fight because when more people are forced to work in fear, when more people are forced to work without rights, we’re all at greater risk.

Think about this: In 2018, the U.S. spent $24 billion on immigration enforcement and only $2 billion on labor enforcement. That’s twelve times more to hunt down immigrants than keep us safe on the job. So are you surprised when workplace deaths go up? Are you surprised when companies cut corners to save a buck?

Brothers and sisters, budgets reflect priorities. And in this government…we don’t seem to matter very much. The Trump administration doesn’t value our work or our humanity, and the numbers don’t lie.

They may not want to listen to us. But brothers and sisters, we will be heard!

We need to fight back—together. Our solidarity is our strength and it must be our strategy. The way we fight best is by restoring humanity and common sense to this conversation. To remind the country that this is personal to us. This is personal to our families, and our unions.

And that’s why I’m so grateful that this morning, we’re going to hear the stories of these men and women—from Wilna, Hector, Rafael and Mahya. Real stories from real people about real experiences with real consequences. When we are deporting military veterans and witnesses to workplace tragedies, something is wrong. When worksites are dangerous, but it's the workers who get taken away in handcuffs, something is wrong. When we are stripping away and denying rights based on where workers are from, something is wrong, and it's our job to work together to fix it.

These stories matter. These voices matter. And it is our job to make sure everyone hears them. So let’s listen—and then let’s get loud.

It’s now my honor to hand the floor to the president of the Ironworkers and the new chair of the AFL-CIO Immigration committee, my brother, Eric Dean.

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