June 25, 2018

The Steering Committee of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, IFT/AFT Local 6297, strongly condemns the Trump Administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” immigration policy. We stand in solidarity with the unions, civil liberties organizations, public officials, community leaders, and activists who are fighting for a just and humane immigration system.

Being branded “illegal” or “criminal” creates a social stigma that can lead to multiple forms of discrimination throughout a person’s life and career, which is why GEO is currently fighting to strengthen the non-discrimination article in our contract by adding immigration/citizenship status and arrest record as protected categories. Unfortunately, the UIC administration has chosen to reject this important proposal, but we are circulating a petition to demand they take it seriously and we encourage GEO members and supporters to sign and share it.

We believe all migrants—regardless of whether they arrive as a family unit or the particular reasons they come—deserve to be treated humanely and with compassion and dignity. We reject any law, policy, government agency, political ideology, public discourse, or media cliché that serves to dehumanize an entire group of people or strip them of their basic rights. As union activists, we also reject President Trump’s brand of economic nationalism, which aims to divide the workers of the world, and instead we call for working-class unity and solidarity across borders.

Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” Policy

In effect since April 6, the “zero tolerance” policy is an attempt to “crack down” on immigrants, letting the Justice Department criminally prosecute all adults crossing the border without papers. Many of these migrants are fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking asylum. Though President Trump has said asylum seekers should cross the border at ports of entry, those who do are being denied entry anyway. As part of the crackdown, the Justice Department is even taking steps to strip citizenship from some naturalized citizens.

Worst of all, the “zero tolerance” policy forcibly separated at least 2,300 children from their parents between May 5 and June 9. Though there is nothing new about U.S. immigration enforcement being cruel, deliberately taking kids from their parents, with neither knowing when—or even if—they will ever see each other again, and locking babies and toddlers in “tender age shelters,” is particularly grotesque.

Many of the parents were deported back to their home countries or sent to far-away detention centers without their children, with no plans for how they will be reunited. Citing the long-lasting trauma created by taking kids away from their parents, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics described the separation policy as “government-sanctioned child abuse.” In response, our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, issued a formal complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council, an international body the U.S. recently withdrew from under the Trump Administration.

While President Trump’s June 20 executive order ending family separation—which only happened after massive public outcry, and after the president had initially claimed he could not do anything about it—is a positive development, it is not enough. The executive order keeps the “zero tolerance” policy in place and, worse, it calls for families to be indefinitely detained at the border. As Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “This crisis will not abate until each and every single child is reunited with his or her parent. An eleventh-hour executive order doesn’t fix the calamitous harm done to thousands of children and their parents… Children don’t belong in jail at all, even with their parents, under any set of circumstances.”

What You Can Do

We call on all GEO members and supporters to fight the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.  There will be Families Belong Together marches across the country on Saturday, June 30. In Chicago, the march will begin that day at 11am in Daley Plaza (details here). If you’re not in Chicago, you can find a local march by entering your ZIP code here.

Make sure to sign and share GEO’s petition in support of strengthening the non-discrimination article in our contract to add new protected categories, including immigration/citizenship status and arrest record.

If you want to learn more about this issue, get involved, or show solidarity, here are some places to do so:

American Civil Liberties Union

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Fearless Undocumented Alliance


National Immigrant Justice Center

United We Dream

(DRM) Dream Action Coalition


Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project

A longer list of organizations can be found here, and you can also read these articles laying out the case for abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement): “5 Reasons Why Activists Are Calling for the Abolition of ICE” and “It’s Time to Abolish ICE.”

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