Unions, community groups divide on immigration reform

Divisions on immigration bill.

Duane Campbellby Duane Campbell

Until last week there was  substantive unity between immigrants rights groups, community groups,  religious groups, and  major parts of organized labor in the effort to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  Now, with the amendments and passage of S477, the Senate bill, this unity is challenged.   The draft of S477 by the Gang of Eight was  always a compromise. There is, for example, a redesigned  guest worker program,  the growth of a special status for H1 B hi tech workers,  enhancement of border enforcement,  a extended period of time required for application for legal status, and more.

Conservative Republican forces in the Senate amended the bill to achieve a massive  30 Billion  $ expansion of border enforcement.  The National Network for Immigrants Rights, a network of grass roots community groups, sharply criticized this developments and Presente, a new on-line group that claims to speak with the Latino community has called the bill unacceptable, while the big Washington D.C. lobbying groups such as the National Council de La Raza continue to support the bill.

Labor too is dividing. The national AFL-CIO praised the passage of S477 in the Senate, Richard Trumka  said,

The United States Senate today moved our country a big step closer to building a common sense immigration system that will allow millions of aspiring Americans to become citizens. 

Now it is up to the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead by allowing a majority of House members to vote on a bill with a path to citizenship. “  and,

“There is much that works for working people in the Senate bill. Most of all, it allows people who are American in every way except on paper to come out of the shadows, lift themselves out of poverty and be recognized as contributors to our communities and our country.”

But, Trumka added, “  Unfortunately, the bill has become less inclusive, less compassionate and less just since it emerged from the Gang of 8’s bipartisan compromise.  We will work to see the bill offer even more protections to workers, more access to needed benefits, a far less militarized, more sensible border security program and fewer obstacles to aspiring Americans. Clearly, no further compromise to the roadmap to citizenship can be tolerated by the labor movement or our allies. “ (AFL-CIO. June 27, 2013.)

The Service Employees International  which has been one of the most active advocate for the bill saw the passage of the amended S477 as a major victory for working people.   SEIU Vice President Eliseo Medina said,

“”What we can undoubtedly affirm is that this bill will set a new precedent and will mend much of our broken immigration system. It will allow millions of our friends, colleagues, families and neighbors to enter the threshold into American society, democracy and our economy. The lives of all families will be impacted for the better as will our economy that will stand to flourish.

“What lies ahead will not be easy or pretty, but what stands before the House is a model of compromise that stood the test of scrutiny, heated debate and challenging amendments. The bill is an agreement between two political parties that found common ground in upholding a roadmap to citizenship unfettered by burdensome barriers, protecting future and current working families and strengthening the unity of families.”

In addition to an unnecessary and very expensive border surge, costing some $30 billion dollars over a decade, the current  Senate  bill excludes at least  3 million plus people from applying for legal status.  This bill is now for 8 million people, not the original 11.1 million.  And, the bill expands the E Verify work identification system.

A number of  repressive bills are being prepared in the Republican dominated House of Representatives.   Rep.  Bob  Goodlatte,  (  R. Virginia – 6th) Chair of the House Judiciary Committee has a bill HR 1773 which would re-establish the prior bracero program (guest workers) with many  of its worst features, tying the work visa to a single farm corporation, company housing, controlled wages, a external “savings” bank, and more. Others are offering bills that would significantly increase the size of the H1 B hi tech “temporary” workers.  And, there are a number of Republicans in the House  often represented by Cong. Steve King of Iowa who only want the enhanced border enforcement while  sharply restricted provisions for changing immigrant ‘s status.   Meanwhile, Chair  Bob Goodlatte,  of the House Judiciary Committee (Rep), has announced that legislation coming out the House panel will not include a pathway to citizenship.

Since the bill is so bad, and likely to get worse, why then do some  national labor leaders argue that the bill should be supported ?  Well, it is something.  Both SEIU, UNITE/HERE, and the UFW  among others, have hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million workers who hope for legalization.  The argument is that we should get them through the pipeline – even at the cost of a repressive bill.

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