About 30,000 Los Angeles teachers and school employees are holding education hostage to demand higher pay and “smaller class sizes” – a popular phrase that equates to more dues paying union employees.

On picket lines across the district Monday, striking teachers toted protest signs in the rain as they swapped horror stories about classes with 40 or more students packed in “like sardines.” What they didn’t discuss: How the United Teachers Los Angeles union’s immigration policies contribute to overcrowded schools and its demands for more staff to handle the situation.

“It’s absolutely not about the pay raise. It’s about class size reduction. In other words, hire more teachers,” teacher Andrea Cohen told CNN. “We want to have fully staffed schools. That means librarians, nurses, psychiatric social workers and their interns. We have 46, 45, 50 students in a class. That’s unacceptable.”

UTLA doesn’t define its demand for “fully staffed schools.” Los Angeles Unified School District negotiators offered to add nearly 1,200 more educators, counselors, nurses and librarians, with hard limits on class sizes. The district also bumped up its previous offer by $24 million, with a proposed 6 percent raise and back pay for the 2017-18 school year.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl described LAUSD’s latest offer as “woefully inadequate.”

Some have used the same phrase to describe the government’s response to illegal immigration and its impact on public schools, in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

The Education Trust-West estimates roughly 250,000 undocumented children between the ages of 3 and 17 are enrolled in California schools, with the highest concentration in Los Angeles County. The group estimates 750,000 K-12 students in California have undocumented parents.

The parents come to California and Los Angeles schools because of sanctuary policies that shield them from federal immigration officials, as well as the vast resources provided by the district and teachers union.

UTLA holds an “Immigrant Rights for Educators Workshop,” for example, to arm union employees with legal information, resources, and “a network of concerned community members and educators who stand up for immigrant students and families.” The union’s Social Justice & Action Resources also advise on how to “Shield Against Immigrant Detention and Deportation.”

Union members hosted and participated in several rallies in recent years calling for “Freedom for Immigrants!” and declaring illegal immigrants are “Here to Stay.”

Keeping illegal immigrants in LA schools is likely a key to keeping UTLA members employed, as district enrollment data shows the overall number of students in district schools has declined every year 2002-03, when it peaked at 746,831 students.

And as student enrollment has steadily slid to about 600,000 students this year, an increasing percentage are also moving to independent charter schools, which are typically not unionized. Since 2002-03, the number of students attending charter schools increased from less than 50,000 to well over 100,000 for 2018-19, according to the superintendent’s final budget.

Illegal immigrants equal demand for teachers, which pay dues to the UTLA. It’s why the union focuses more on immigration rallies and contract demands than keeping students in class.

Ironically, many immigrants aren’t fond of the teachers strike.

Grandmother Juventina Hernandez attended a UTLA presentation to immigrant families as the union prepared for the strike last fall, and she told LA School Report she wasn’t impressed with what she saw.

“We wanted to know more about their demands, but all we heard is that they want us to commit in supporting them to go on strike,” Hernandez said. “But how are they committing to our community, to our kids? I wanted to know how they were prepared to support our kids if they go on strike for those two weeks, but we heard none of that.”

A union official left a petition with the parents asking for their support, mother Margarita Gilley said, but very few signed on.

The UTLA “knows very well our needs, and then they used them to lie to us,” she said. “Out of the entire presentation, I didn’t see anything that reflected our real needs, only their needs. I’m glad most of us didn’t sign their petition.”

Azucena Gonzalez, a mother of two at John Marshall High School, also saw through the charade.

The union’s focus is on “convincing us to give them our support, what they are asking for them, what is in their best interest,” she said. “That’s all we heard.”