Labor leaders hail Obama immigration order

(Nov. 21, 2014) — Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, issued the following statement Thursday night in response to President Barack Obama’s announcement of an executive order on immigration:

President Obama’s executive order creating administrative relief for up to five million immigrant workers is truly a ray of hope in what has otherwise been a bleak prospect for immigration reform, immigrant workers and their families, and America as a safe haven for those who seek democracy, opportunity and fair chance to provide for their families.

With this order millions of immigrant workers will have the ability to pursue work legally and their families will be freed from the daily anguish and fear of having loved ones deported; the indignity of having unscrupulous employers steal their wages or retaliate against them when they stand up for their rights; and the offensive disregard for the contributions they make to strengthen our communities and economy.

This order is a step towards regaining our high moral ground of being a nation of immigrants, a nation of fair play, and a nation of opportunities for those who have few. It is the right thing to do morally, the right thing to do to strengthen our economy, and the right thing to do to bring a true measure of security to our communities.

But it is also important to note that it is not a permanent solution. The order still leaves millions of immigrant workers vulnerable to exploitation and fear of deportation. And this threatens all workers. The order also bends to the will of major corporations who continue to depress the wages, working conditions and employment opportunities of domestic technical workers by expanding the temporary visa programs. We must continue to say no to corporate greed.

A permanent solution lies in the passage of true comprehensive immigration reform with real citizenship and workplace rights. The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO will continue to work with brave immigrant workers, dreamers, religious, community and labor leaders to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement Thursday night:

Today is an important step toward rational and humane enforcement of immigration law. On behalf of America’s workers, we applaud the Administration’s willingness to act.  We have been calling upon the White House to halt unnecessary deportations since Spring 2013 because our broken immigration system is an invitation for employer manipulation and abuse, and U.S.-born workers as well as immigrant workers are paying the price.

By extending relief and work authorization to an estimated 4 million people, the Obama Administration will help prevent unscrupulous employers from using unprotected workers to drive down wages and conditions for all workers in our country.  Although this fix will be temporary, it will allow millions of people to live and work without fear, and afford them the status to assert their rights on the job.

The Administration is operating within its authority to advance the moral and economic interests of our country, and while we stand ready to defend this program, we must also be clear that it is only a first step.  Unfortunately, more than half of those who currently lack legal protections will remain vulnerable to wage theft, retaliation, and other forms of exploitation.

In addition, we are concerned by the President’s concession to corporate demands for even greater access to temporary visas that will allow the continued suppression of wages in the tech sector.  We will actively engage in the rulemaking process to ensure that new workers will be hired based on real labor market need and afforded full rights and protections.

But this announcement does move us forward – progress that is attributable to the courage and determination of immigrants who rallied, petitioned, fasted and blocked streets to make it happen.  Implementation of the executive action should begin immediately, before further delays open the door for legislative obstruction. Starting tomorrow, the administration should focus enforcement attention on high level targets, stop the community raids and leave workers, grandmothers, and schoolchildren in peace.

Going forward, we renew our call for comprehensive reform that provides a path to citizenship and real protections for workers.  We will continue to stand with all workers, regardless of status, to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected.  Working together, we know that we will ultimately achieve a more just immigration system that promotes shared prosperity and respects the dignity of all workers.

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