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.