Over a decade ago, the immigrant-rights movement seized the national spotlight with a risky act of civil disobedience: It turned May Day 2006 into A Day Without Immigrants, an unprecedented day of strikes and protests in more than 50 cities to prove immigrants’ vital role in the economy, and to demand comprehensive immigration reform. Now, facing a president who threatens to launch even more oppressive border regime, immigrants are once again taking industrial action one workplace at a time—this time, a little bolder, a little angrier, and a little more confident that their communities have their back.
On Friday at Northeastern University in Boston, dining service workers with UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents workers at area universities and hotels, staged a one-day strike to defend “Our American Principles.” They rallied behind set of moral guidelines that Trump seems determined to violate from day one, but which the union sees as non-negotiable for both the labor and immigrant rights movement: “our commitment to diversity and equality for all…respect for one another’s race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation” and the precept that “wherever we were born or however we came to America, we all belong here.”
Even in a relatively liberal city like Boston, Local 26 felt compelled to stage a preemptive strike as an opening salvo in the coming battle against Trumpism on the local level. And city lawmakers also recognize their plight: Boston has for several years upheld “sanctuary policies,” an informal category demarcating a line of non-cooperation between federal authorities and police on immigration-law enforcement. Since 2014, under legislation known as the Trust Act, Boston police have generally refrained from aiding federal enforcement (though federal agents can generally intervene for specific investigations, with an explicit warrant).
Sanctuary policies have enabled nearly 50 cities nationwide, according to Politico, to avoid, to varying degrees, actively collaborating on a federal immigration crackdown (for instance, by rejecting Homeland Security’s “hold” requests for police to detain immigrants on the agency’s behalf, pending federal detention). For workers, these protections provide some reassurance that they can go to work each day or complain to authorities about an abusive boss without having to worry about a cop demanding to see their ID.
Since the election, Boston has reaffirmed its defiance, despite Trump and many conservative lawmakers’ threats to slash federal funding for sanctuary cities. Last November, Councilor Josh Zakim clarified that Boston would continue “providing sanctuary from the type of immoral and illegal federal overreach that President-elect Trump has promised throughout his tawdry campaign.”