Former Pomona College chef Christian Torres, along with Workers for Justice (WFJ) supporters, 5C students and members of the Claremont community, asked the Pomona administration to guarantee that it will rehire any former employee who, after being fired for their lack of valid work authorization last December, obtains a work permit from the U.S. government. Torres, who was among the 17 employees fired last year, is taking advantage of a new federal policy to apply for work authorization.
This new policy is the result of an executive order signed by President Obama on June 15. Under the policy, undocumented immigrants can apply for deferred action—a temporary license to stay in the country—if they meet certain requirements. Applicants must, for example, be under age 31, and they must not have been convicted of a felony or multiple misdemeanors. Undocumented workers who are granted deferred action can receive employment authorization and be hired legally in the U.S.
Acting President Cecilia Conrad told the demonstrators that the administration would consider Torres’s request and tell him in about a week whether a work permit would guarantee him a job.
Last December, the Pomona administration promised to rehire any of the 17 fired employees if they could show valid work authorization documents by June 30, 2012. No one has been rehired so far, but Obama’s executive order raises the possibility that one or more of the fired workers might soon be legally authorized to work in the U.S. If Torres, for instance, gets a work permit under the new federal policy, it will be legal for Pomona to rehire him.
Supporters of WFJ, the pro-union group of Pomona dining hall workers, gathered on Marston Quad around 1 p.m. Wednesday before marching into Alexander Hall. Elizabeth Russell, an organizer for Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), told the group that the message to be conveyed to the administration that day was not the same message from past demonstrations.
“We’re not going to talk about the past with the unions,” Russell said. “We are going to simply be there asking for anyone who gets a work authorization permit to be rehired.”
The demonstrators proceeded to the second floor of Alexander Hall, where Special Assistant to the President Teresa Shaw received them. Community organizer and Claremont School of Theology student Samuel Pullen stated the group’s request to Shaw.
Shaw responded by reiterating the college’s previous position on rehiring the fired workers from December. She added that if former employees are granted work authorization under the government’s new policy, they can reapply for positions at the college but will have to go through a hiring process again.
“We offered to rehire anyone to demonstrate work authorization by June 30,” Shaw told Pullen. “If there’s anyone who is still able to provide work authorization, they are welcome to communicate with Human Resources.”
Diana Ortiz PO ’14 and Eric Martinez PO ’14 then spoke about how the December firings has affected them personally, and the community at large.
“These people were crucial to the school,” Martinez said. “They were like a second family to so many people and they belong here.”
Torres then delivered his request to be rehired by Pomona.
“I want to come back. I want to serve these students,” he said. “These students have taught me a lot of lessons, life lessons—not just how to speak English. They showed me what a real community is.”
Shaw said that she could not guarantee that Torres would be rehired if he were granted a work permit, but that if he did succeed in his pursuit of deferred action, he would be given every consideration in the hiring process.
Shortly after, Conrad returned to the office and the demonstrators repeated their message. Conrad also did not guarantee that workers who were able to gain work authorization would be rehired, but she promised that dialogue between WFJ and the administration would continue.
“I’d like to try and talk to some people [in the administration] and then get back to you in a week or so,” Conrad said.
After the demonstrators left Alexander Hall, Pullen said that he felt hopeful for the future of conversations between WFJ and the administration.
“I think today we shifted the discussion in a positive way,” Pullen said. “In this situation, it’s important to recognize that the rules that are created by institutions often disregard the human realities of people’s lives. But these rules can change, and they will change when students demand it, when community members demand it, when administrators have a change of heart.”