Labor Groups make the case for immigration reform


This post, from guest-blogger Paco Fabian of America’s Voice, highlights why immigration reform is important to ensure ALL workers’ rights, not just immigrant workers.

Today, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), American Rights at Work (ARAW), and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) are releasing a report, “ICED Out: How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights,” which documents, according to the ARAW press advisory:

How the federal government’s approach to immigration enforcement in the recent past has severely undermined efforts to protect workers’ rights, to the detriment of immigrant and native-born workers alike.

The reports examines the Bush Administration’s workplace immigration enforcement actions between 2006 and 2008 and it describes, in devastating detail, the problems associated with prioritizing immigration enforcement over labor law enforcement.

Contributing authors Ana Avendaño (AFL-CIO), Julia Martinez Ortega (ARAW), and Rebecca Smith (NELP), will be joined by two immigrant workers, Josue Diaz and Saravan Chelvan at AFL-CIO headquarters today in Washington DC to discuss the report’s findings and recommendations — primarily, “how the division between labor and immigration enforcement has eroded, and what the administration and federal agencies can do to restore the balance.”According to Smith:

In recent years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have taken actions against workers who complained about non-payment of wages, who were injured on the job, trying to exercise collective bargaining rights or who were victims of discrimination. The single-minded focus on immigration enforcement has allowed employers to profit by employing a workforce too terrified to make complaints.  The report recommends common-sense rules that will provide policy coherence between enforcement of immigration laws and protection of labor rights.

The report finds “in recent years, with the rise of workplace raids and with more governmental agencies, such as state and local police, involved in immigration enforcement, the government has trampled on the labor rights of workers;” that the “single-minded focus on immigration enforcement without regard to violations of workplace laws has enabled employers with rampant labor and employment violations to profit by employing workers who are terrified to complain;” and that  “ICE actions have created incentives for shady employers to continue hiring and abusing undocumented workers, since the deportation of their employees may excuse those employers from complying with labor laws.”No example is clearer on these points then the Postville Iowa raids that took place in May 2008.

In the spring, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win (CTW) agreed to a common framework for comprehensive immigration reform.  Their plan includes a path to legal status for undocumented workers and a commission to regulate the entry of workers in the future, in addition to labor protections and enforcement standards to guard against the types of abuse described in the study released today. In the words of Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice:

The key to making our immigration system work is to make all immigrant workers are legal, ensure that employers are hiring legally, and enforce all labor protections aggressively.  This combination will create an equal playing field for workers and employers who are complying with the law, and allow for tough and targeted enforcement against those who don’t.  The only way such a system will come into being is if Congress steps up and fashions a 2qst century immigration system that promotes, rather than undermines, legal immigration, legal hiring, and worker protections.

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