A Union’s Call to Save TPS


A Union’s Call to Save TPS


At the TPS (Temporary Protected Status) Teach-In held at the Phillips Brooks House on October 29, Ed Childs sat at the front of the room to speak on how the recent cancellation of the decades-old policy would impact his union, UNITE HERE (Union of Needletrades Industrial + Textile Employees; Hotel Employees; Restaurant Employees). While this was the first time some students met Childs, he has served a long tenure representing Harvard workers.

Childs has been a dedicated union organizer for over 40 years and is a cook at Adams House. A friendly man, Childs will talk your ear off but speaks with an unabashed passion for those forgotten and oppressed. As chief steward of a local labor union, UNITE HERE Boston’s Local 26, Childs has served on the front lines for movements supporting workers’ rights, including the Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) strike of 2016. Child’s most recent battle though is against the Trump Administration’s attack on TPS.

Earlier this year, Trump announced plans to end TPS for immigrants coming from at least six of the ten countries covered under the policy—Sudan, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Nepal and Honduras—marking what immigrant rights advocates call an “unusually aggressive” attack on the rights of those fleeing countries made unsafe by violence, natural disaster, and poverty.

TPS was created by Congress as part of the Immigration Act of 1990. It is intended to provide legal status for immigrants in the US “who are unable to return home safely due to conditions or circumstances preventing their country from adequately handling their return.” TPS eligibility is determined country by country, and citizens of specific countries can apply for TPS under certain conditions, such as ongoing armed conflicts, natural disasters, or other “extraordinary and temporary conditions.”

If Trump’s current moves to revoke TPS status from the affected countries are successful, it would mean the deportation of over 400,000 people currently living and working within the US, many of whom have been residents here for decades. This fall, the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate TPS for over 250,000 immigrants was blocked by a federal court’s preliminary injunction.  Edward Chen, a judge in the Northern District of California issued an order for the Trump administration to temporarily stop the end of TPS protections. He argued that the method in which the end of TPS was initiated violated federal rule-making guidelines and the Equal Election Clause as a decision based “on animus against non-white, non-European immigrants.”

Still, the judicial block is only a temporary hold. The case surrounding TPS is expected to eventually make its way to the Supreme Court which, given the court’s recent rightward slant after the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, likely means grim news for immigrant rights advocates and those currently living in the US who are dependent on TPS for legal status.

As the status of TPS hangs in the balance, union leaders like Ed Childs are forced to reckon with what the end of the policy could mean for labor organizations nationwide.

“It’s the most powerful unions in the country that will put on the biggest struggle, and all of us would fold under [the end of] TPS and the unions would pretty much implode. That’s a survival mode for all of us—every worker in this country,” Childs said. “Besides, if any worker is under attack, you defend them. This has extra weight because it also would dismantle basically our union, so that’s why TPS is so important.”

Mass deportations could erode unions that depend on solidarity amongst a diverse membership of workers, many of whom come from immigrant communities. Over 200,000 workers affected by TPS are also members of the  Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Childs estimates that there are roughly fifty HUDS employees represented by Local 26 and roughly a hundred or more employees represented by SEIU at Harvard who are threatened by the end of TPS in the United States. TPS presents a specific challenge for union leaders in that not only does the end of the program present a major threat for the status of many union workers in this country, but also the rhetoric surrounding the debate around TPS is racially charged and politically divisive.

“[Ending] TPS is also part of the xenophobic attack, but it’s very specific in that they are targeting people who have been working for 20 years.” Childs sees the connection between the threat of exclusionary immigration policy and union membership. “Most of them [TPS holders] are actually in union jobs. Most of the union movement for the last 20 years has been organized with immigrants.”

In a push to defend workers threatened by the prospective end of TPS and the unions that depend on them, various labor organizations, like UNITE HERE Local 26 and the SEIU, have mobilized to protect TPS from the Trump administration. The coalition is currently organizing events like rallies and teach-ins to promote a greater sense of awareness and urgency surrounding what the end of TPS would mean for those who could be sent back to countries afflicted by instability and violence, as well as what it would mean for the labor movement in the US.

“If we don’t win over the population, there’s a tug-of-war going on,” Childs states, “So you have the administration on one side, and you have the workers, the students, and the [general] population on the other side.” He says that this struggle “divides the consciousness of people,” making it harder for various groups to come together to combat injustices against specific groups.

Childs worries that the general public and media outlets are not grasping the full impacts of the end of TPS. “The media’s not making anything of it, they just show that [Trump’s] undoing the law,  not showing the implications of anything… it’s insane that half a million people and their families are about to be deported in a couple months and nothing’s being said about it in a major way. You can get page 8 in the New York Times but this is major news” he laments.

Coalition leaders like Childs urge that in order for any progress to be made in protecting the rights of those most threatened by the Trump administration, greater solidarity needs to be formed between labor organizations, immigrant communities, and those who falsely believe they are untouched by these issues.

Childs says that there is a prominent quote used in the union movement: that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” He states that this is, “something we have to project to everybody, and now we have to project that to students.”

Francisco J. Cernada (fjcernada@college.harvard.edu), Ayanna Dunmore (adunmore@college.harvard.edu), Segan Helle (shelle@college.harvard.edu), and Lucy Wickings (wickings@college.harvard.edu), are all students in Dr. Kristina Shull’s EMR 132: Detention, Deportation, and Resistance in US History.