Labor union leaders gathered yesterday to demand comprehensive immigration reform, joining in the fight for America’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
With a list of recommendations for legislators to incorporate into a comprehensive immigration reform package, leaders from two of the nation’s largest labor unions came together for an approximately 100-person rally with community members, undocumented immigrants and the Chicago Federation of Labor at the Instituto del Progreso Latino (IDPL) yesterday.
Joseph Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), and Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), called for a “clear path to citizenship” for undocumented workers.
“I cannot guarantee for my son that his father will be here in a month,” said Alicia Ramirez, vice principle of Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy.
Ramirez’s husband has lived as an undocumented immigrant for 12 years and is having his case reviewed by Citizenship and Immigration Services in three weeks. Ramirez said she has spent more than $20,000. Their lawyer gave her a “50/50 chance” that her husband would be granted citizenship.
“The uncertainty of our system does not guarantee my husband an opportunity to stay in the United States,” she said.
Pledging his support for immigration reform, Hansen said labor unions will have a seat at the table when legislation is being discussed.
He called for reform that includes citizenship accessibility for the majority with a less burdensome process, smart and humane border control, an effective mechanism for determining employment eligibility, streamlined and practical family unification, and a fair process for allocating employment-based visas.
“We can no longer accept an immigration system that breaks up families, that harasses workers, and deports people who are simply trying to achieve the American dream,” Hansen said. “We can no longer be a nation that turns away aspiring citizens.”
Representatives from the unions have been meeting with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D, IL-4) regularly, according to Esther Lopez, director of civil rights for the UFCW.
Durbin aims to drop a bill in April, after the Easter recess, according to Lopez.
“It all comes down to 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate, we cannot leave any stone unturned,” said Hansen. “We want to be a nation that gives immigrants hopes, not fears. We want to be a nation that builds dreams, not border fences. We want the family of immigrants to be united, not divided. We want immigrant workers to have rights, not wrongs.”
Some of the other organizations present at yesterday’s rally were the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, the Southwest Organizing Project and the Resurrection Project.
President Barack Obama upped the pressure on Congress to send him an immigration reform bill during February’s State of the Union address.
Saying, “I will sign it right away”, Obama outlined general principles of immigration reform, such as tightened border security, earned citizenship and fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers.
According to Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, “our immigration system needs an overhaul, right now, today.”
Saying that undocumented immigrants are forced to live as “second-class citizens,” Trumka said big employers drive lower wage standards by exploiting “hard-working, insecure and underpaid” workers. Through threats of deportation workers cannot unionize or express displeasure with low wages or unsafe conditions, according to Trumka.
Here's more from Trumka:
“It weakens us as a nation ... And we won’t stand for it anymore,” Trumka added. “For America to work, hard work must be fairly rewarded, that’s the foundation of the American dream.”