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RWDSU Leader Ahead Of Mission To Central America: ‘Immigrants Should Be Welcomed And Not Feared’

New York, NY – Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, on Thursday, gave his blessing to an upcoming Catholic Charities mission to Central America slated to depart the day after Easter — and the union leader taking part in the effort says its about “changing the narrative” surrounding immigration and being able to tell trade unionists that immigrants should be “welcomed and not feared in any way.”

Archbishop of New York Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan with RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.

“I think what we’re going to be trying to do, is to come back and talk to our brothers and sisters in labor about why their brothers and sisters who are traveling here should be welcomed and not feared in any way,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] said at downtown press conference announcing the Easter season mission. 

Appelbaum, who will be joining Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on the mission to Central America’s “Northern Triangle”, said that he’s already seen union members from all over the country welcome immigrants and that he just wants to see those numbers to continue to “grow and grow.” 

“We need to raise awareness of what is really going on and why people are leaving their homes despite knowing all the risks they’re going to be facing,” the RWDSU president said. “We need to change that narrative. Many of the members of my union come from the Northern Triangle. They work in supermarkets, they work in car washes, they work in poultry plants, and they are worried every day. They are worried about themselves, they are worried about their families. And so, it makes great sense for us to be standing up and speaking out, and raising awareness of what is really going on at the border.”

The upcoming mission comes amidst a purported rise in the numbers of refugees fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and seeking refuge in the United States, as well as fears that the wholesale caging of children seen last summer on the border will, once again, resume as the Trump administration moves to cut all aid to the “Northern Triangle.”

Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs called the upcoming mission to Central America “critical.” 

“This false narrative of people just coming here for no reason; or they’re not children; or they’re not fleeing extreme violence is just that — it’s false,” said Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “It’s our jobs to tell the truth about why people are coming — that we tell the truth about what it means if we leave people behind; what it means if we say to a 10-year-old or a 15-year-old or a 5-year-old — we don’t care that you’re fleeing extreme violence. We don’t care what it will mean to you if you return…you might embark on increased abuse, violence or, even worse — death. That’s not who we are as New Yorkers.”

About 400 children who were taken from their families at the U.S./Mexico border last year, ended up in New York City. The 100-year-old Catholic Charities of New York helped care for many of them and continues to care for still other refugee children fleeing the violence in Central America. 

“Today, we want to say as New Yorkers, we continue to be a city that welcomes, and a city that encourages newcomers because we’re stronger when we welcome and we open our doors to them,” Monsignor Sullivan said. 

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson [D-3rd District] recalled how “almost 38 percent of New York City residents — nearly four million people who live in the greatest and best city in the world — were not born in the United States of America.”

“They came to this city with dreams and aspirations for themselves and their families,” he said. “Some of them were just seeking a better life; others were fleeing violence and seeking asylum as refugees, and trying to ensure that they and their children could remain safe.”

Appelbaum took part in a similar fact-finding mission to Bangladesh along with Comptroller DiNapoli back in 2013, following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory — the deadliest accident in the history of the worldwide garment industry, in which more than 1,100 workers were killed making clothes for large corporations ranging from Benetton to Walmart.  

“This fact finding trip that we’re taking to the Northern Triangle Is going to be an opportunity for us to see the human face right there in those countries that have been such a focal point of the migration and refugee issue that we’re contending with in our country,” the comptroller said. 

Monsignor Sullivan dismissed Donald Trump’s claim that America is already “full”, pointing out that the U.S. actually holds the 175th slot in a list of 225 densest countries on Earth. That said, the monsignor also said that his organization is not advocating open borders.

“We don’t believe in completely open borders — we believe in secure borders,” he said. “But we believe in a generous and fair legal immigration [policy]. Not merely for the sake of the immigrants who come here, but for the sake of a better country, a more robust economy, a growing nation.”

Upon returning from Centra America, Monsignor Sullivan said that he and his partners are willing to “talk to anybody and everybody who wants to listen.”

“I suspect we’ll come back with a few ideas that we will work with our partners in government, in labor, to see how we can make our country a more welcoming country, a safer country —  a country where there is even greater opportunity,” he added.” 

Said Appelbaum, “To be true to our faiths and be true to our city — we have to be speaking out at this time.”

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