Pomona Should Rehire Any Fired Workers Who Obtain Work Permits

Christian Torres, a former Pomona College chef who was among the 17 employees fired last year because they could not show valid work authorization papers, has presented a compelling, well-reasoned proposal to get his old job back. The Pomona administration should agree in advance to rehire Torres, provided that he first obtains a work permit through a new federal program that will allow some undocumented immigrants to work legally in the United States.

The government’s new policy, the result of an executive order signed in June by President Obama, was designed to allow young people like Torres, who are Americans in every way except legal status, to live and work without fear of imminent deportation. Torres—like many undocumented immigrants, including some Claremont students—was brought to the U.S. when he was a child. Since then, his contributions to his local community and the American economy have made him an excellent example of why a continued practice of large-scale deportation of young immigrants would be a devastating mistake.

During his years at Pomona, Torres worked hard, made close friends, cooked good food, improved his English and studied for his General Educational Development test with help from a student tutor. Like his fellow Pomona staff members, Torres became an integral member of the campus community. Now that he has a potential path to legal working status, Pomona should look forward to welcoming Torres back, along with any other former Pomona employees who, with help from the White House’s policy, gain the legal right to accept jobs here.

Last December, just after the 17 terminations, Pomona President David Oxtoby promised that the college would rehire any fired workers who could obtain valid work authorization papers by June 30, 2012.  In light of Obama’s executive order, which went into effect too late to help any worker meet the June 30 deadline, Pomona should adjust the terms of Oxtoby’s original promise, effectively guaranteeing employment to anyone among the 17 workers who can get a work permit through the new program. By agreeing to this proposal, Pomona would show appreciation for the contributions of these workers, who deserve as much respect as Claremont’s students, professors and administrators.

Understandably, the Pomona administration may be reluctant to offer guaranteed rehiring without a deadline. Pomona may worry about the possibility of being obligated to rehire former staff members in 15 or 20 years, by which time the college might be unable to find work for its circa-2011 employees. Still, the college should have little hesitation about granting an extension—perhaps two or three years—to Torres and other workers who want to pursue work authorization through the government’s new policy. Such an arrangement would represent an admirable compromise between the administration and Workers for Justice (WFJ), the pro-union group of Pomona dining hall workers, which supports Torres’s proposal.

To be clear, this editorial should not be read as a blanket endorsement of WFJ’s agenda. As WFJ supporter Elizabeth Russell points out in Wes Haas’s front-page article, the question of guaranteed rehiring for newly authorized workers is separate from the question of unionization at Pomona. The Student Life is not taking any official stance this week on unionization procedures, but we join WFJ in calling on the Pomona administration to adopt a policy of rehiring any former employees who obtain work permits under Obama's policy.