Jacob Swenson

Continuing the Struggle for Immigrant Justice.

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Yesterday, President Obama called on Representatives in the House to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Yet, many folks despair that, in the wake of the government shutdown, it will be difficult if not impossible to pass a sensible and compassionate immigration reform bill.

Well, Salon's Josh Eidelson sat down yesterday with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to talk about working with Congress, and the President, to pass immigration reform. Despite the sizable obstacles that stand in the way, Gutierrez holds out hope that by working together, we can find a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and their families. Here's what he had to say:

I disagree with [the idea that there's no chance of passing comprehensive immigration reform] because even during the very contentious and oftentimes nasty debate over the budget and the debt ceiling, as contentious as that got, the conversations the dialogue continued between Democrats and Republicans trying to find a play... [S]o I believe that that’s going to eventually bear fruit, and that we’re going to be able to move forward.

Gutierrez also said that, if Congress fails to pass comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama must take bold action to end the 1,100 deportations that occur daily:

I think that those quarters of the immigration movement that are calling on the president to [enact a "ceasefire" on deportations] are absolutely right. There are devastating effects if the Congress of the United States cannot enact comprehensive immigration reform – then the President of the United States has the responsibility to act to defend those immigrants which he says he wants to provide safety and justice for.

You can read the entire interview with Rep. Gutierrez at Salon.

If you haven't yet, please join Interfaith Worker Justice in calling on your Representative to fix our broken immigration system NOW!

Fight for Fairness at Patriot is not Over

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The Rev. Jim Sessions, an Interfaith Worker Justice Board Member, was in the car driving to St. Louis for the “Fairness at Patriot” rally, when news of the settlement between the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and Patriot Coal was announced on the radio. *

Not knowing the details of the settlement, he called John Lonetti, the UMWA organizer who had invited him to participate in Tuesday’s rally.  “Should I still come?” the Rev. Sessions asked. 

If you haven’t been following the news from IWJ and the Fairness at Patriot campaign, you might be similarly perplexed about what a settlement means for miners, current or retired, and their families. The settlement represents a first step in a campaign that has a long history.

In many ways, it’s a story that reflects a situation more and more workers (in both the private and public sectors) are confronting. Though they’ve worked for years, their employer is now trying to escape their obligation to provide them with the benefits they’ve earned.

In this case, Peabody Energy created a subsidiary company, Patriot Coal, to which they offloaded millions in pension liabilities, without also transferring sufficient assets to cover those costs.  And they did this knowingly.  As Peabody CFO Rich Navarre proudly put it at the time, “Our relative health care liabilities and related expenses will be reduced by 40 percent.”

While that may have been good news for shareholders at the time, it’s had a devastating effect on mineworkers and their families since Patriot has subsequently filed for bankruptcy and a judge relived them of the contractual obligations they had previously made with workers.

the Rev. Jim SessionsIt isn’t surprising, given all this, that Lonetti told Rev. Sessions the rally on Tuesday was most definitely still going to happen.

The Rev. Sessions described the rally as truly “rousing” with several thousand folks, many of them other mineworkers from as far away as Virginia. As one of the speakers at the rally, he delivered a speech that included these powerful words:

"I bring to you … religious solidarity from the Interfaith Board of Directors in Chicago … and the solidarity of my family.  You are here for my children, for my grandchildren.  My family's future is in this struggle.  This is a moral struggle.  This is about the moral fiber of this country.” 

After the rally, the Rev. Sessions participated in a planned action of civil disobedience.  While he was arrested and processed by the police, he had a chance to connect with mineworkers who were also arrested.  The mood among the group, the Rev. Sessions reported, was energetic.  Despite this lengthy struggle, they remain committed to fighting for justice.

It’s clear, when the Rev. Sessions speaks about the UMWA, that he has great admiration for the mineworkers and their union.  “They [the UMWA] have great internal solidarity because they depend on each other so much when they’re underground [in the mines].”  He also noted that many reporters and national observers miss the fact that a good number of these miners are bi-vocational pastors, who lead independent Protestant churches in addition to working in the mines.  As a result, workers’ religious beliefs play a large role in shaping the union’s culture.  “Everything starts and ends with prayer.  [Faith] is part of the fiber and fabric of this union.”

Given the strong character of the UMWA leadership and their members, the Rev. Sessions seemed hopeful in the midst of this long battle.  But, he emphasized, “it’s important” for IWJ members “to recognize that this fight is not over, Peabody Coal is still behind a nefarious spin-off game.”  A game that is continues to cost mineworkers and their families dearly.

Want to learn how you can continue to fight for justice at Patriot?  Click here to get involved!

 *  Update (8.19.13 at 12pm):  The proposed settlement, first announced on Monday, August 12th, was formally ratified by UMWA mineworkers on Friday, August 16th.

Honor Antonio By Calling Your Representative Today

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good jobs nationAlthough Antonio Vanegas, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, has worked in food service at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. for three years, his immigration status only recently came under scrutiny

For the last several years, Antonio’s employer, Quick Pita, has been stealing his wages. They’ve used the standard tactics: paying less than the minimum wage and denying overtime pay.

Like many undocumented workers, Antonio found himself in a difficult position. He could silently suffer the injustice of wage theft or he could speak out and risk deportation.

Because Antonio works in a federal building, his employer is contracted by the U.S. government to provide food services on federal property. So in fact, our tax dollars are subsidizing Quick Pita, the very company that’s stealing Antonio’s hard-earned wages. Actually, the federal government subsidizes more low-wage jobs than Walmart and McDonald’s combined, according to a recent report from Demos.

In May, Antonio joined 150 workers who walked off their jobs to participate in a one-day strike led by Good Jobs Nation.  Speaking at the event, Antonio publicly testified that Quick Pita stole his wages and demanded the government start acting like a “good landlord” by only contracting with employers who implement fair labor practices.

Just days after confronting his employer about their illegal labor practices, Antonio was detained at work by officers with the Federal Protective Service, a police unit within the Department of Homeland Security.  He was subsequently held for four days and now faces an immigration hearing next month.

This December, Interfaith Worker Justice will honor Antonio for his bravery and leadership at our 2013 Award Celebration in Washington.  It’s never easy to confront your employer, but it is especially difficult for undocumented immigrants like Antonio.

Today, House Republicans are meeting to discuss their strategy for immigration reform. If we want to protect immigrant workers like Antonio from abuse and retaliation, it is vital the House pass a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship. 

You can honor Antonio today by calling your Representative and asking them to support compassionate immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.