Five Essentials for a Just Response to the Migrant Surge

Successive waves of immigrants and refugees have always helped build, serve and feed our nation. Today is no different. Unions stand ready to welcome more immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers and help them integrate into the workforce in good union jobs. 

While we continue the long-term fight for a broad pathway to citizenship and comprehensive reform of our unjust immigration system, we call for an immediate response to the migrant surge that adheres to the following five essentials:


This is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis that requires a humane and effective response. Migrant families fleeing danger and seeking refuge must not be treated as props in callous political stunts. As a nation, we must:

  • Protect human life and respect human rights.
  • Meet immediate human needs, including shelter, food and health care.
  • Ensure due process and representation.


Upon arriving in our communities, migrants are eager to support their families and achieve self-sufficiency, but legal barriers and backlogs make it difficult and far too slow for them to receive formal work authorization. These realities force too many migrants, including children, into the informal economy and dangerous workplaces where they are acutely vulnerable to exploitation. To break patterns of abuse, we must

  • Expedite work permitting.
  • Strengthen labor standards and enforcement.
  • Hold employers accountable.
  • Protect workers who are organizing and who report violations.
  • Reject approaches that give employers control over workers' immigration status.


As a nation, we have an obligation not to return people to harm's way. The administration has important tools to help meet this obligation, including the refugee program, asylum processing and grants of temporary protected status (TPS). Unions continue to recommend the full use of these tools to address pressing needs of people and communities:

  • Designate TPS for all countries destabilized by conflict or disasters.
  • Improve asylum processing, with options for climate migrants.
  • Expand refugee resettlement.


The federal government controls immigration policy and must bear the cost of its implementation. Communities around the country have risen to the occasion to welcome migrants humanely, but they are shouldering unbudgeted costs and severely straining the already short-staffed public workforce. Moreover, private contractors are driving up costs for services in ways that require oversight. Our country must:

  • Allocate sufficient federal funding for migrant services.
  • Streamline resource a/location and hold private contractors accountable.
  • Fully fund and staff the public sector at all levels, including education, health care, housing and nutrition benefits determination and service provision.


As it was for generations before, the labor movement is the natural home for immigrants and refugees struggling to achieve economic security and social justice. Yet, without effective planning for workforce integration, increased levels of immigration can fuel populist backlash. Unions want to be at the table to help craft responses that build worker solidarity and worker power. We urge you to:

  • Engage with the labor movement to develop response strategy.
  • Employ skilled union workers in construction of housing and other migrant support.
  • Integrate migrants into union jobs and apprenticeship programs.
  • Support union-run clinics and training.

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