Teamsters Joint Council 16 on September 13 became a sanctuary union.
Joint Council 16 is composed of 27 Teamster locals in the New York City area and Puerto Rico.
The locals have a combined membership of 120,000.
“As a sanctuary union, the Teamsters will not assist federal immigration agents in deporting (our) members and will proactively provide training, legal assistance, and organize support for immigrant Teamsters,” said the Teamsters in a statement issued after Joint Council 16 passed a resolution declaring itself a sanctuary union.
The resolution was passed just one week after Eber Garcia Vasquez, a longtime Teamster member was deported to Guatemala.
Garcia, a member of Teamster Local 813 for 26 years, fled Guatemala in the 1980s during the country’s bloody civil war.
When he arrived in the US, he sought asylum as a refugee escaping the threat of political violence at home.
While his request for asylum was being considered, Garcia was given permission to work and took a job at a waste treatment facility on Long Island, New York.
While living in the US, he married an American woman and began raising a family.
After working in the US for many years, his request for asylum was denied, but he appealed the decision and received a stay of his deportation order.
While his appeal was being considered, he was required to report once a year to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to submit paperwork requesting that he be allowed to remain in the US while his asylum repeal was under review.
For four years, he did so without incident, but this year when we reported in August, he was detained.
While he was in custody, the Teamsters circulated a petition urging ICE to exercise its legal discretion and release Garcia, who was in the process of obtaining a Green Card.
“ICE should not be trying to deport someone who is eligible for a Green Card and is on his way to getting it,” said Zachary Sanders, Garcia’s attorney during an August Teamster rally in support of Garcia. “He has a family to support and a community that values him. I am hearing from so many of his coworkers and neighbors that want him to stay. ICE has the discretion to release him as his case moves forward and they should do just that.”
The Teamsters also circulated a petition urging ICE to release Garcia
“Eber’s family depends on his union job,” said the union in a statement directed at ICE. “His wife was in a car crash earlier this year and is now in a wheelchair. His deportation will wreak havoc on their lives.”
But ICE chose not to heed the plea, and in a matter of weeks, Garcia was transferred to an ICE detention center in Louisiana and then on September 6, he was deported.
At the August rally, Ron Herrera, director of the Teamsters Waste Division, said that Garcia’s detention is not an isolated event.
“This year, we have seen an increase of attacks on our immigrant brothers and sisters in the form of ICE detentions at homes, job-sites, and schools,” said Herrera. “. . . These actions harm our economy, destroy our communities, tear families apart, and do not embody the values that we hold as Teamsters. . . I encourage my Teamster brothers and sisters, regardless of your industry, status, or personal background, to stand with our sisters and brothers in the immigrant community, as they face an unprecedented attack on their basic rights and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”
After Joint Council 16 declared itself a sanctuary union, George Miranda, president of the council, said that other immigrant members of the Teamsters should be confident that their union would stand behind them.
“Being a sanctuary union means we will do all that is in our power to keep our immigrant members safe and keep their families together,” said Miranda. “The Teamsters have fought against racism since our first days as a union, and this is the next step.”
“Standing up for immigrants is part of standing up for workers,” continued Miranda. “Companies will take advantage of undocumented workers to drive down wages and safety standards for everyone. Politicians will promote racial resentment in order to divide workers and weaken the working class. Unions know that workers are strongest when we are united and it’s on us to strengthen that shared compassion and solidarity.”