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Unions uniting with local immigrants

Mike Desmond
Western New York Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz (at podium) talks with the crowd.

The labor movement says it is going all in on helping immigrants, who are joining unions in increasing numbers. It is part of a national program involving the AFL-CIO, headed by Richard Trumka.

The Te Vemos Town Hall meeting Thursday night was an alliance of labor and community groups objecting to treatment of immigrants, heavily people of color, and what immigrants locally need to help them move into the wider American society. Western New York Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz said this is active work.

"Feel-good is important. We didn't just do it for the purpose of feel-good," Lipsitz said. "This proclamation we actually have some ideas about how to use, and the labor federation is in contact with, a number of organizations that can help immigrant workers in their struggles to make it in this country. So we have some processes that exist already, but we'd like to strengthen them."

The focus of the labor movement is a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bust of a meatpacking plant in Mississippi that left 650 unionized workers locked up. Some of the workers were citizens. Witnesses said children were left alone at home or in the streets when parents were arrested, while families are falling apart without paychecks.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Rochester teacher Serena Kotch said she told her immigrant students they were safe in New York, until a recent ICE raid on an Amtrak train she was riding.

"I was suddenly crushed by the realization that I had lied to my students. Living in New York State is not safe for immigrants," Kotch said. "At that moment it occurred to me that this whole ICE crackdown is not about keeping dangerous people from crossing our borders, it's about keeping out black and brown people. It's about creating fear so that the rest of us are afraid to speak out lest we be treated the same way."

Leaders and participants in the meeting, held at SEIU Local 1199's union hall in North Buffalo, pledged to fight treatment of immigrants and the practice of separating families into what the Te Vemos Proclamation caled "appalling conditions."

Louisa Pacheco said the alliance is protecting America.

"Democracy is so precious and so important for us to protect," Pacheco said. "Immigration is an issue, but democracy is the heart of what we have to be doing as American citizens."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.