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NEA calls for the immediate release of the leaders of Migrant Justice detained by ICE

NEA also honors Migrant Justice with César Chávez Human and Civil Rights Award

WASHINGTON - March 27, 2017 -

The National Education Association (NEA) today presented one of its most prestigious civil rights awards to Migrant Justice, a Vermont-based organization fighting for the rights and dignity of dairy workers. This is the first time the award has been presented before the scheduled June awards annual dinner, and the NEA made the decision in light of the recent detention of Migrant Justice activists during a nationwide crackdown on outspoken immigrants.

The tribute, the NEA César Chávez Acción Y Compromiso Human and Civil Rights Award, honors a nominee who follows in the exemplary footsteps of the labor rights and civil rights activist in philosophy, work, and leadership in improving the lives of workers. On Friday, March 31, the nation will celebrate the birth and legacy of Chávez.

“We denounce in the strongest terms possible the arrest of these activists and call for the immediate release of the detained Migrant Justice leaders,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “America welcomes strivers and dreamers and their diverse talents. When we embrace the contributions of immigrants, the future is brighter for our country. We reject this targeted attacked on Migrant Justice because it undermines these core American values. We do not arrest people for speaking up for those who do not have a voice or for doing what we know is right, just, and courageous.”

NEA took the unprecedented step as hundreds of supporters of Migrant Justice rallied in Boston’s John F. Kennedy federal building to call on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release the detained Migrant Justice workers. José Enrique Balcazar Sanchez and Zully Palacios, two of the leaders of Migrant Justice, were arrested during the Trump administration’s targeting of high-profile activists in recent weeks. Community activists view their arrest as retaliation. They remain in jail today.

“César Chávez notably said ‘If you want to remember me, organize.’ Migrant Justice embodies his spirit and carries his torch forward,” said NEA President Eskelsen García. “Migrant Justice is organizing farmworkers to address the challenges they face and bringing about systemic change to improve and advance their fundamental human rights. They are a national model for their cutting edge human rights organizing and concrete victories. Migrant Justice motivates us, inspires us through their deeds and actions, and embodies what is just and right about César Chávez.”

With Migrant Justice at the helm, Vermont farm workers announced their Milk with Dignity campaign in 2015, calling on Ben & Jerry’s to take responsibility for farm workers’ rights abuses. The campaign organized actions at Ben & Jerry’s stores across the country, leading the ice cream company to sign a written commitment to join the program. Two years later, however, Ben & Jerry's has yet to implement the program to secure the rights of farmworkers within their northeast dairy supply.

“We are so proud of the work Migrant Justice does, and are honored to have recommended them for this award that recognizes those who walk in the footsteps of César Chávez,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, Vt., who serves as the president of Vermont-NEA. “Even more importantly, Enrique, Zully and Alex are fellow Vermonters. They and all migrant workers who are employed by our state’s farmers and who deserve the same rights we all enjoy. They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives – they are our friends, and their children are in our classrooms.”

“When Donald Trump’s ICE targets immigrant community leaders for arrest, he is targeting workers' rights to organize,” said David Diaz, dairy worker and member of the Migrant Justice’s Farmworker Coordinating Committee. “This tremendous show of solidarity from the National Education Association strengthens our resolve to continue to fight for a dairy industry free from human rights abuses.”
About NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards

Since 1967, NEA has recognized and honored those who have fought and continue to fight for human and civil rights. This year, NEA will thank and honor the outstanding work of social justice heroes, including Migrant Justice, at its annual Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner in Boston.

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Miguel A. Gonzalez
(202) 822-7823,