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Organize, Naturalize and Mobilize for Just Immigration

July 30, 2015

The labor movement has long fought to correct the imbalance of power within our immigration system in order to build an economy that works for working people. The Marshall Plan, labor’s historic framework of 2009, sets out our principles and priorities for comprehensive immigration reform, including a broad and inclusive pathway to citizenship for our undocumented brothers and sisters; humane and rational systems of border control and workplace verification; and structural reforms to our employment-based visa system to prevent indentured work and base future entry levels on the real needs of the labor market.  These carefully balanced components promote a rights-driven approach that respects the hardships and contributions of those living here as well as those moving here, and prevents our immigration system from being used to lower wages for all working people in our country.

Our commitment to enacting these principles is fierce and unwavering.  They ensure that workers’ issues will not get lost within the halls of Congress or within the broad coalition advancing immigration reform. We have always known that this would be a long and arduous fight, and the labor movement brings clarity, vision and leadership at this critical juncture.  We know that it is no longer a question of if justice will come for immigrant workers, but when.  The fight for immigrant rights is not a campaign, it is a movement, and movements keep moving despite setbacks and obstacles.  The AFL-CIO will continue to lean in to this struggle as an integral part of our long term strategy to build power for workers.

First and foremost, we will organize.  Like it was for generations of immigrants before, the labor movement is the natural home for new immigrants struggling to achieve economic security and win social justice. Our unions are investing heavily in organizing immigrant workers in industries and states with high union density, as well as in new frontiers. To be effective in this core work, we must demand changes to our legal enforcement mechanisms that will help to eliminate existing barriers to organizing.  We see all too often the damage that is done when immigration enforcement occurs in the midst of an organizing drive, a bargaining campaign, or a concerted job action.  We demand that the Obama administration use its authority to explicitly protect immigrant workers who assert their rights on the job and to prevent immigration enforcement actions from being used as a tool to deny workers their legal right to organize.  We also firmly assert the need to maintain a firewall between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement, and to focus workplace audits on employer behavior, rather than individual workers. Empowering workers with a voice on the job is critical to enforcing basic labor standards, and no one should have to risk deportation simply for exercising their workplace rights.

Next, we will help workers build power in the community by naturalizing new citizens. Already, local unions, labor councils and state federations around the country are conducting citizenship drives in their union halls and partnering with progressive community organizations to enfranchise immigrant voters.  Obstacles to naturalization function as voter suppression against communities of color, much like voter identification and strict voter registration laws, so we will do everything we can to help broaden the base of working people able to take part in the electoral process. In addition, unions are prepared to help immigrants gain work authorization by applying for deferred action, and any other forms of relief that become available.

Finally, we will mobilize. The electorate is changing quickly, and the labor movement is committed to investing in a robust voter engagement strategy to help to unlock the power of the Latino and immigrant vote.  This effort will include a strong Spanish language field and messaging program that makes clear what is at stake in these elections for working people.  Racist and anti-worker politicians who scapegoat and demonize immigrants and unions have no place in our halls of power, and they can expect to hear from our members in the streets and at the polls.  Comprehensive immigration reform is a core piece of the raising wages agenda, and we will insist that all candidates who seek the support of the labor movement commit to making real changes to our broken system.  Workers are no longer willing to accept the status quo, and they have positioned the immigration issue where it is today:  as one of the most important civil, political and economic issues facing our nation.

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