Secretary Solis Continues the Drum Beat for Immigration Reform, But Is Anyone Listening?

Earlier today, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka discussed the complicated intersection of labor, immigration, and the United States economy. “The immigration system has always been important to the labor movement,” said Trumka. Both Secretary Solis and Trumka advocated for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR)—acknowledging the obvious economic benefits to all U.S. workers—and lamented the fact that Republicans have been unwilling thus far to come to the negotiating table on the issue. The lack of Republican cooperation is surprising, considering a CIR bill would be beneficial to U.S. workers and businesses, and was part of the impetus for Solis and Trumka to come together for the webinar.

Trumka rejected the notion that the border should be secured first, stating that the thirst for cheap labor would trump anything that we can do at the border, and CIR would actually be cheaper and easier than a borders first approach. While he acknowledged that we do need reasonable border security, Trumka warned that continuing as is threatens to make undocumented immigrant workers a permanent underclass, and cuts wages for all workers. Secretary Solis also pointed out that the U.S. is losing billions in tax dollars by not allowing workers to legalize and pay back taxes as well as taxes going forward.

Trumka presented specific solutions that would be present in CIR and stated that every labor union in the AFL-CIO supported this general outline:

  • Let undocumented people already here have a pathway to legalization
  • Prevent the exploitation of workers, address real shortages through independent commission
  • Rational reasonable border control, as well as visa enforcement
  • Strict compliance by employers to not hire undocumented workers, as well as a tamper proof ID
  • End to guess worker programs.

Secretary Solis outlined her goals for comprehensive immigration reform: Identifying the 11 million undocumented who want to become citizens, performing background checks, making them pay back taxes and possibly a tax penalty, making them learn English, and making them go to the back of the line for citizenship.

Secretary Solis also announced that launch of the “We Can Help Campaign,” which seeks to educate all workers on their rights and protections. The campaign offers a free, confidential outline for any worker to report labor abuses such as under or unpaid wages, workplace safety issues, and other abuse.

On Arizona’s controversial law SB 1070, both commented that they supported the Department of Justice lawsuit. Secretary Solis pointed out that the Administration actually reduced border crossings, and that the government is spending more money on the border now than ever before. Trumka echoed this sentiment, adding that politicians are trying to blame immigrants for the failed economic policies of the last three decades. Both questioned the idea of trying to deport undocumented workers, especially as 85% of that group has one or more legal U.S. citizens in their family.

A caller asked what the Department of Labor and the AFL-CIO were doing to advance CIR, and both hosts commented that without any Republican support at all, it would be difficult to get even a small immigration proposal through both houses of congress. Despite the stagnation of Republicans, however, Secretary Solis and Trumka continued to advocate for both CIR and smaller pieces of legislation like the DREAM Act, calling its failed passage a complete waste of talent and resources, especially since the U.S. spends money to educate these children yet our broken policies won’t let them move on to college or get jobs. Hopefully at least a few of the politicians in Washington were watching the webinar—they owe at least that much to the workers and businesses in their respective districts.

Photo by fkjyt.

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  • Benito

    I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. All of us ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated, but this is not the case.

    I know the proponents of this law say that the majority approves of this law, but the majority is not always right. Would women or non-whites have the vote if we listen to the majority of the day, would the non-whites have equal rights (and equal access to churches, housing, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, schools, colleges and yes water fountains) if we listen to the majority of the day? We all know the answer, a resounding, NO!

    As for the undocumented workers, as was attributed to Ronald Reagan “It’s the Economy, Stupid”. When the economy is good you say let’s all celebrate “Cinco de Mayo, my brothers” but when the economy is down “it’s all your fault, you damn immigrant”. This too will pass, the real problem is the narcos, arms and people smugglers and that’s what the focus should be on.

    Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics and do what is right, not what is just popular with the majority. Some men comprehend discrimination by never have experiencing it in their lives, but the majority will only understand after it happens to them.

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