The president clearly shares the AFL-CIO’s commitment to a viable pathway to citizenship, meaning that seemingly innocuous conditions cannot be allowed to get in the way of a road map for citizenship that encompasses the dreams of 11 million people.
Obama’s proposal for a comprehensive immigration plan for aspiring citizens in this country now follows Monday’s announcement by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators of their vision of immigration that also includes a path to citizenship. Saying a consensus has been building that action must be taken, Obama told the packed house of workers, immigrants, activists and labor leaders:
The time has come for common sense comprehensive, immigration reform. Now’s the time. Most Americans agree that it is time fix a system that has been broken for far too long….Now’s the time to do so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future.
He said many of the 11 million aspiring citizens are working in “a shadow economy” where employers do not pay a minimum wage or overtime and take advantage of the immigrants’ fears.
The wages and working conditions of American workers are threatened....We have to bring this shadow economy into the light.
In a phrase, President Obama “gets it”—he gets that a rising tide lifts all boats and that empowering immigrant workers is a win for all working people.
As Obama outlined his plan, he said he hoped his provisions would become “key markers” for what should be included in a comprehensive reform package.
It must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.
He said that would include passing background checks, paying taxes and any penalties, learning English and other requirements. “It won’t be a quick process but it will be a fair process.”
Obama also said reform should include a crackdown on employers who hire future undocumented workers, stronger border security measures and “bringing the legal immigration system into the 21st century,” including easing requirements for families of American citizens to be reunited with their families abroad.
Trumka said Obama’s immigration plan, coupled with the Senate outline, “makes us hopeful that 2013 will be the year in which the United States finally builds a working immigration system. “
But hope is not a plan. That’s why America’s unions are undertaking a national campaign to ensure that Congress passes a genuinely comprehensive plan in 2013.
That’s why some 20 union leaders were on hand for Obama’s speech, to pledge their support for the historic push for immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship and to stress that immigration reform is a working family issue that matters to all of America's workers, regardless of one’s citizenship status.
Here are excerpts from what some labor leaders are saying about President Obama’s immigration reform framework.
AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) President Sean McGarvey:
While I agree that we need a plan that ensures future economic prosperity, modeling a system on the historically flawed guest worker programs will not work. We must re-examine this current exploitative model that creates a permanent underclass and often results in chronic abuse of workers and further undermines labor standards. The national unemployment rate is currently 7.8 percent, and even worse in the construction industry, 13.5 percent. We must not cause more harm to this slowly recovering economy or to our workforce. American workers are entitled to see that the United States is first preserving the economic standing of America's workforce before it invites new workers to labor in a newly constructed temporary worker program.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders and AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes:
Immigrant rights are worker rights, and AFSCME will be on the front lines of the march toward comprehensive immigration reform. We know that real reform will bring a fair path to citizenship and protection of jobs and job opportunities for all workers in our country. It is time for hard-working immigrants and their children to be able to stop living in fear of deportation. They came to this country in search of freedom and opportunity and have already contributed to our economy and social fabric. When they are able to come out of the shadows, they will be able to reach their full potential, which will benefit all of us.
AFT President Randi Weingarten:
The time for immigration reform is long overdue, and we applaud the president today for proposing a commonsense, compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform plan that provides a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently reside in the United States. The president's blueprint for reform, and the U.S. Senate bipartisan framework, shows an understanding that our nation has always been enriched by immigrants and strengthened by the diversity they bring. His proposal strengthens our borders, ensures immigrant children can go to school without fear, keeps families together, and promotes safe and secure jobs for all workers. His continued support of the Dream Act gives dreamers the chance to dream by giving hard-working students who play by the rules an opportunity to pursue a college degree.
Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen:
We realize, as do all involved, that this is a complex issue and we will be focused on the details of the plan going forward. We must have an overall immigration process that works for working families. That’s why CWA will monitor any proposed changes to visa programs like the H-1B visa, which are sought after by business but have cost U.S. technicians and other workers tens of thousands of jobs.
Laborers (LIUNA) President Terry O’Sullivan:
Comprehensive reform can only be achieved by addressing our archaic visa policy, failed guest worker programs, inefficient employment verification systems and bureaucratic backlogs that keep families apart and create the conditions that allow unscrupulous employers to thrive in our current system.
National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) Director Ai-jen Poo:
Millions of new American immigrants work in this country every single day, caring for our children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. It is imperative that the domestic workforce be given the chance to step out of the shadows and continue the work they do every day to make all work in this nation possible. The demand for these workers is growing and they represent an amazing opportunity to strengthen our economy and transform the way we care for ourselves and each other. Any comprehensive, successful immigration policy needs to expand opportunity for all rather than selectively applying our nation’s values.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:
We are pleased that the president’s proposal builds on the extraordinary success of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and incorporates DREAMERS into the mainstream of life so that this country can continue to reap the benefits of their hard work, ingenuity, and achievements. And we welcome the administration’s commitment to support the value of keeping families together.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry:
As a nation, we collectively believe that if you work hard, you should be able to provide for your family, and you should be able to get ahead. This shared value, opportunity for those who seek it, is remarkable because it is inclusive of all people, no matter their race, gender or place of birth.…Passing commonsense, accountable immigration reform is also about a shared commitment to strengthening our economy. Lifting 11 million undocumented workers out of the underground economy would lift wages for every American while generating billions in additional tax revenue.
UAW President Bob King:
It’s past time to lift the fear of deportation for individuals who are contributing to our country….The UAW will work hard with our allies in the labor, immigration rights, women’s rights, civil rights, environmental and LGBT movements, and all those who care about a more just society, to ensure that Congress sends a comprehensive reform bill with a path to citizenship to President Obama’s desk this spring.
UNITE HERE President D. Taylor:
The hundreds of thousands of women and men who are our members and future members come from all over the United States and the world. Through the work they do every day—making beds, preparing food, cleaning rooms, washing dishes, serving travelers—they keep our economy moving and build stable lives for themselves and their families. Like all Americans, they hope for secure and happy lives for their children. And those who are immigrants dream of achieving citizenship so that they can be full and equal participants in our society.
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) President Joe Hansen:
This issue is personal for UFCW members. Many watched in horror during the 2006 ICE raids as hundreds of documented and undocumented workers were detained and harassed just for doing their jobs. Our nation is better than that. We must be a land of opportunity for all those who work hard in pursuit of the American Dream.
The United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo W. Gerard:
It is long overdue that our nation recognizes that its immigration system is broken. We commend both the President and Congress for making it a priority to address this issue in a meaningful manner....A major challenge is fairly handling the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already part of the fabric of our society. As long as undocumented workers remain in the shadows, they can be unjustly exploited by employers in that they can be subject to wages theft, unsafe working conditions and denied other basic protections under the law.