This is a blog slightly out of the ordinary here at Labor is Not a Commodity. We just can’t ignore when one of our own gets caught in the same system that has had so many negative impacts on working people around the world. The issues surrounding migration and the right to due process are at the center of this blog and these are issues that ILRF has highlighted on our website and past blog entries. This is also a blog about solidarity, and for this ILRF is in awe at the power we all carry when we work collectively to end injustice.
Andrea Huerfano, who was an intern at ILRF in the spring of 2008, moved to the United States from Colombia with her family in 2001, just prior to her freshman year of high school. Andrea cared deeply about working class folks and issues surrounding immigration. You can read one of her blogs here about the roots of immigration.
The Huerfanos fled their home country in response to political threats and they arrived in the United States with valid visas and immediately applied for political asylum. The United States asylum application process is long and complicated, with refugees essentially stuck in limbo for the duration of the adjudication process; they cannot go back to the home they know and are unwelcomed guests in the United States unsure of whether they will be sent back or allowed to stay. 58 percent of those who apply for political asylum are denied their claim. While Andrea and her family waited to hear if their application for political asylum had been approved, years went by. Andrea graduated from high school and began attending the Florida State University, and during her second year at Florida State her father passed away due to lung cancer; still a decision had still not been made concerning their status. After her father’s death Andrea’s mother married an American citizen, allowing her and her two younger sons to stay in the United States but leaving Andrea’s status still to be determined because she was over 18 years old. Andrea and her mother and brothers attempted to gain political asylum based on her father’s experiences in Colombia but when they submitted their plea for asylum to Judge Teofilo Chapa it was denied.
Despite her own personal drama Andrea continued to be active in her community. She was involved in a number of organizations including the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the DREAM Team coalition when she was a student at Florida State and after graduating in 2007 with a degree in International Relations she interned with the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). During her stay with the IRC she assisted case workers as they helped those who, unlike Andrea and her family, had been granted asylum. In the summer of 2008, she was awarded a coveted fellowship with PolitiCorps, a prestigious political training program in Portland, Oregon. As part of her fellowship she spent up to 80 hours a week registering young American’s to vote during the 2008 election cycle, despite the fact that she herself did not enjoy that right. PolitiCorps director Caitlin Baggot described Andrea as the most “hardworking and promising” fellow of the year.
On December 8, 2009 Andrea had gone to court to pay a traffic ticket when she was detained to Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida, and faced imminent deportation. Following her detention, the many activist communities she is and was involved in began to mobilize on her behalf. More than 700 people signed an online petition last week asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to let Andrea stay in the United States. Through the efforts of a coalition led by Bus Project, PolitiCorps and Students Working for Equal Rights, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced that she will be released on a “stay of removal” and given six months to prepare her case.
Despite all of Andrea’s efforts to make the United States a more just and equal country and to get those lucky enough to be granted the coveted status of citizen more involved, the United States is not doing her any favors. Only with the help of other organizers and activists is she still here today. Andrea’s case highlights the immeasurable problems that exist in our immigration system today, despite highly publicized “immigration reform.” Innocent people who are looking for nothing more than safety and security for their family are often left in the same situation as Andrea and her family found themselves when they first arrived here, or worse. Some are detained upon arrival without any explanation, and are often stuck in that situation for years.
However, this is not an issue that concerns only the United States. Often we forget to ask about the conditions that may have driven someone to leave their home. Many leave due to forces beyond their control such as unemployment, underemployment, or lack of effective labor laws in their home country that can protect their health and safety on the job. In other cases, like with Andrea’s family, people must flee from political persecution. Increasingly, political persecution or wrongful arrest based on labor activism are becoming migratory “push factors.” Trade unionists and leaders are being effectively black listed by their countries’ governments due to their union activity. Faced with wrongful arrest, as in the case of Remigio Saladero; violence against them or their family as in the case of Colombian Coca-Cola and Dole workers; or the inability to find work due to black listing; workers and their families often have no choice but to leave. When considering the “immigration problem” in the United States we must first consider the problems that brought them here. The migration of people, workers, or families weave tangled webs of connection across the globe. As we become more aware of our place this web, we can better help to untangle it. Labor rights and immigrant rights are irrevocably linked and we cannot solve immigration problems unless we first work to solve issues that cause people to migrate in the first place.
For more information on Andrea’s case, and to get more involved in her struggle, contact Mollie Ruskin or Caitlin Baggot.
To learn more about the labor rights issues that lead to the struggles of immigrants and refugees and to get a glimpse into their lives check out http://www.crossingtheblvd.org/, visit the ILRF’s page on freedom at work and the ILRF’s freedom at work toolkit.