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AFL-CIO Hopes To Bring Immigrants Into "House of Labor"

Image: Richard Trumka
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addresses union members at a training session on the DACA-DAPA application process on March 31. The union members will return to their communities to assist immigrants. The immigration executive action programs are on hold.NBC News
/ Source: NBC News

WASHINGTON -- Maria Dominguez told a roomful of union members Tuesday it was the kind of work they were about to embark on - preparing immigrants for deportation relief - that set her on her way to using her teaching credentials.

Originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, but living in the U.S. since she was 9, she got deportation relief in 2012 and now uses her master’s degree in bilingual education to teach at Rodriguez Elementary in southeast Austin.

“I benefited from DACA,” said Dominguez, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that shielded hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation.

“No, we benefited from you,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, to enthusiastic applause.

A Texas immigration judge has put new and expanded DACA and a deportation deferral program for parents that were authorized by President Barack Obama on indefinite hold while 26 states argue in a lawsuit that the programs are not a benefit but a money drain. The programs also provide work permits.

But the AFL-CIO sees assisting immigrants illegally in the U.S. as the “morally right thing to do” and a way to assist other workers, because a broken immigration system "drags everybody down" including wages for all workers.

“The voices against immigration reform, if you brush everything else aside, are really colored by bigotry,” Trumka said.

The union has gathered union representatives from around the country in Washington for three days of training to help immigrant workers and youth not only to apply for the deportation relief programs known as DACA and DAPA if they are able to go forward, but also to teach them their rights as workers.

“The American middle class has been built on struggle and rises on the shoulders of workers, workers coming out of the shadows,” Trumka said. “Now we’re opening up our union halls to bring another generation of immigrants into the house of labor.”

Jesus Azteca Sanchez of Chicago and a member of the Chicago Teachers Union was among the union members at the three-day training session. He said he has students who could attend Harvard and Yale were they not in the U.S. illegally.

"I personally want to be better versed in what's happening," Sanchez said. "I want to get engaged in the struggle my undocumented brothers and sisters are going through."