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Labor leaders vow to strengthen, support Senate immigration bill

Following is a statement by Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson regarding the Gang of Eight immigration bill:

johnson-jeff-13(April 18, 2013) — Yesterday the Senate Gang of Eight introduced their immigration bill. While there are many improvements that need to be made to the bill to make it a humane and family friendly piece of policy it is a great step forward and welcome.

Given the ideological gridlock that has come to define this Congress, it is hard to believe that we are this close to creating a pathway to citizenship for 11.5 million immigrant workers and their families. For decades, millions of workers have lived and worked in the shadows of our society and economy, afraid to speak up for their rights for fear of losing their jobs and worse yet being deported and separated from their families. Last year, 400,000 individuals were deported — 1,100 a day on average — ripping families and communities apart. This has to stop.

We will work to strengthen the workers’ rights sections of this bill so that all workers regardless of immigration status, whether they are current citizens, on the pathway to citizenship, in an H or W program status, guest worker, or new entrant, have the same protections under labor law so that they are free from intimidation and retaliation and have the right to back wages when they are fired illegally, the right to join a union if they so choose, and equal protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The bill also creates a common sense process for assessing and regulating the future flow of immigrant workers to the U.S. The bill sets up an independent agency using a data driven process to determine the real supply and demand needs for various skill levels in our economy and approves visas accordingly. This process is an attempt to rationalize the immigration process and protect the wage and benefit levels and rights of all workers in the U.S.

We look for improvements in the bill that will accelerate knocking down the current wait lists for citizenship status, more emphasis on family reunification, and removing or relaxing the conditionality of border security and proof of previous employment — something that could be quite difficult to do when you have worked in the underground economy for so long.

Labor will continue to work with the immigrant worker community to improve and gain support for this legislation as it moves the process. This will not be an easy process. But we all need to keep in mind that we are a country of immigrants. The United States was built on the blood, sweat, tears, and dreams of immigrant workers. Comprehensive Immigration Reform will only strengthen our country morally, economically, and culturally.

The following statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka regarding the Gang of Eight immigration bill was distributed Wednesday, April 17 by the AFL-CIO:

trumkaThe bill introduced today is another step toward addressing a real crisis. The United States urgently needs a roadmap to citizenship for more than 11 million aspiring Americans. And while Washington, D.C., is full of legislative unveilings that dissolve into recriminations and unsolved problems, this time actually is different. Our cause is unstoppable. There will be a roadmap to citizenship in 2013.

As is to be expected in an 844-page first response to an issue as complex as immigration, there are several details in the bill that cause unintended, but serious, harm to immigrant workers and the broader labor market. We will work to correct those problems now that a bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We also want to emphasize that while we are making progress in Washington, there is an accelerating crisis of deportations in America. It isn’t a crisis when violent criminals or drug dealers are deported after due process, that’s common sense. But it is a crisis when workers who stand up for themselves in the workplace are deported after employers decide immigrant workers no longer know their place. It is a crisis when DREAMers are separated needlessly from their parents by deportation.

We know that there will be a roadmap to citizenship soon, but not soon enough for hundreds of thousands of hard working people and immigrant communities. We call on the administration to cease deportations of people who will soon be eligible for a long overdue roadmap to citizenship so the legislative process can proceed without prolonging the crisis.  That is the sensible and humane thing to do.  When a war is about to end, it makes sense to reach a cease-fire rather than extend the suffering needlessly.

Our role is to make sure that roadmap leads to citizenship achievable not only in theory but in fact.  Workers care for the elderly, mow our lawns or drive our taxis, work hard and deserve a reliable roadmap to citizenship. And so the labor movement’s entire grassroots structure will be mobilized throughout this process and across this country to make sure the roadmap is inclusive.

The labor movement’s role in the coming months is clear: continue to mobilize on behalf of not only an immigration reform bill, but a bill as compassionate and constructive as our country deserves. And so we will dedicate presidential campaign style resources to ensuring that all workers have a place on the roadmap to citizenship, to reuniting families, and establishing long overdue worker protections.

Along with our allies in the broad-based immigrant rights movement and in communities across the country, the labor movement says that the time for citizenship is now.

Statement online here: Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka On Gang of Eight Immigration Bill

For the latest updates, follow @AFLCIO and @RichardTrumka on Twitter.

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