What I Do
IBEW keeps San Francisco's cable cars running.
Welcome to Washington. It’s wonderful to see so many people here from different unions and different parts of the country to help us launch this exciting new initiative.
I want to start by emphasizing one key point: We struggled hard for the opportunity in front of us. We struggled and pushed and fought alongside our courageous, undocumented brothers and sisters to get the White House to issue executive orders to give relief to millions of people who are American in every way but on paper.
So this is an important milestone in our long march for justice, and we should all know exactly what it means: When we stand together and march together we win together. We can win, and we’re going to keep moving our country forward.
We knew there would be roadblocks. We knew they would be severe, and they are. Yet while the obstacles are real and they will keep coming, our resolve is firm. We will persevere, and we will prevail!
The voices against immigration reform are colored by bigotry. There’s just no soft way to say that. This isn’t the first time that prejudice has opened the door for injustice in American politics, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But I am committed, and we are committed, to fight against that injustice wherever it rears its head.
You see, when people use the word “immigrant” like an epithet, I take it personally. I come from a small town in southwest Pennsylvania coal country. It was not easy when my family came to this country. My parents and grandparents fled poverty and war from different corners of Europe.
When the immigrants of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation got to the mines and mills, the people already there said we were taking their jobs and ruining their country. Yet that generation of immigrants stood together and built America. This is the history of my family, and this is the story of towns large and small across America, places like Seattle and St. Louis, San Antonio and Chicago, and so many others. It is also the story of our labor movement.
The American middle class has been built through struggle. It rises on the shoulders of workers coming out of the shadows. This is the America I know and love. And now we are opening our union halls to bring another generation of immigrants into the House of Labor, so we can all grow stronger together.
And when I talk about workers who live and labor in the shadows, I’m talking about real people. Deportation is real. It’s wrenching. It’s wrong. It’s indefensible. And the fear it causes, the worries it creates, are equally wrenching and wrong.
No parent should wonder when he or she leaves the house in the morning, if their boss will turn them in today, or if a traffic stop will end their search for the American Dream.
We know America’s broken immigration system drags everybody down, all working people, all families. We want to lift people up. That’s our mission. Real reform is as important to the American labor movement, as to the immigrants who live and work here. We know a center-piece of the raising wages agenda is a broad and workable pathway to citizenship.
President Obama’s executive actions were the right thing to do, but we’re not done yet. And if anyone asks you why we’re holding this training now, while we wait for a judge to either clear the way or put up another hurdle, tell them this progress can be stalled but it cannot be stopped. We’ve come this far. We’re going forward. We will not stop.
We’re part of a powerful national movement at a historic moment. Immigration reform is the struggle of our time, and you are on the struggling edge. When you go back home, prepared with what you learn here, you will be pushing this movement forward. Thank you.
As you learn to help eligible people navigate the process and the paperwork to become American citizens, or to save themselves from the threat of deportation, you will be lifting America up. This is how we rose in the past. This is how we rise.
This is how we rise, brothers and sisters. This is how we rise. God bless you and the work you do.