By María Elena Hernández
MIAMI — As an immigrant and proud union member, Labor Day has always had special significance as a celebration of the benefits and protections that we can win when we collectively organize, no matter where we come from.
But the American Dream has grown out of reach, not just to immigrants who are finding themselves more and more persecuted, but to all working families.
I was here visiting my family from Nicaragua when Hurricane Mitch and the flooding that happened destroyed much of my country. I was able to stay here through the Temporary Protected Status program (TPS), for people fleeing their countries because of war or natural disasters.
I have worked for 10 years as a janitor at Nova University in Broward County, FL, where the students and faculty rely on us to keep the buildings safe and sanitized—especially important during with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a union member, we fought and won vacation days, health care, and other benefits. I’ve supported striking airport workers and helped thousands of workers win a living wage, and hundreds of South Florida workers win their own union. These gains and that of all working people are now under threat by a President who wants us to fight each other because he wants to distract from the fact that he has only helped his billionaire friends.
His failure in managing the COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed his contempt for working families, in particular essential workers who come from Latino and Black communities that have been hardest hit.
Corporations are rescued by bailout after bailout, but there is no help for us. While life has gotten harder for nearly all workers, the top 1% are safe at home, doing better than ever.
Here in South Florida, immigrants, including TPS members from Haiti, Nicaragua, and other countries, have built up communities and small businesses. Many of us are essential workers who are reducing the spread of the coronavirus by sanitizing buildings, or guard the airports, ports, and public areas. We are part of this community and are keeping the economy going.
Rather than rewarding our hard work and contributions, Trump has demonized us. Many immigrants like me are terrified that at any moment we can be separated from our families, or sent to crowded, inhumane detention centers—more dangerous than ever in the face of COVD-19.
We are needlessly getting sick and dying because Trump has refused to give us protective equipment or provide fast, reliable testing. Rather than justly compensating essential workers like me, who risk our lives every day, Trump has denied us even a single extra penny for our sacrifices. Millions have been laid off, lost their health insurance, and can’t pay their bills, afford their medicines, or their rent.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Joe Biden wants to expand healthcare, paid sick leave, and protect essential workers. He supports a $15 minimum wage and will support unions as we fight to lift people out of poverty and help grow the middle class again.
There is too much suffering and hate right now. We need leaders who will represent us and bring healing to this country. Every single person should exercise their right to vote. If you don’t vote, you are letting someone else decide what will happen to you, your children, and your future. And right now, we won’t have a future, if we don’t vote for a change.
María Elena Hernández is a TPS recipient from Nicaragua. She is a union steward and labor and immigration activist in South Florida. She was profiled in the Miami Herald about her efforts to extend TPS.