Immigration

Executive Action to Protect Worker Rights

For far too long, our broken immigration system has allowed employers to drive down wages and working conditions in our country. The brunt of the impact has been borne by immigrant workers, who face the highest rates of wage theft, sexual harassment, and death and injury on the job. But our entire workforce suffers when we allow standards to erode as millions of workers struggle to support their families without the status to assert their rights. When employers can hire undocumented workers with a wink and a nod and then fire them when they seek to organize a union or complain about unpaid wages or unsafe working conditions, it is not just undocumented workers who are hurt, but all workers.

Recognition of these concerns brought the labor movement together in 2009 around a shared set of principles that would move us toward a different sort of immigration system—one that promoted shared prosperity and shared values of dignity, fairness, opportunity, voice and justice. That framework guided our participation in historic negotiations that paved the way for the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill S. 744 last year. The bill strengthened protections for workers and devised a new type of employment-based visa system tied to real labor market need, not the whims of employers. In addition to being the right thing to do, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the reforms would net more than $450 billion in new revenues and reduce our deficit by nearly $200 billion over the next 10 years, providing vital support to get our economy back on track.

Disgracefully, House Republicans have refused to act on the Senate’s bipartisan bill, and instead repeatedly have offered empty promises, excuses and finger pointing. The failure to allow a vote on legislation supported by every element in civil society, from faith leaders to the civil rights movement, from the business community to the labor movement, represents a complete abdication of the duty to serve the national interest.

But even though Republicans have failed to act, the core principles of comprehensive immigration reform aren’t going away. The legislation enacted by the Senate last year is our guide, and we will remain steadfast in support of its principles next week, next month and next year. The labor movement has made a core priority of achieving a permanent solution to our broken immigration system, and we recommit ourselves to working with the rest of civil society to achieve this urgent goal.

In the meantime, the president has clear legal authority to grant temporary relief to a broad class of workers, and we call upon him to take bold action to protect our American work standards. The executive branch must act urgently to relieve the pressure of the deportation crisis by granting temporary relief and work authorization to all those who would qualify for citizenship under the bipartisan Senate bill. Employers must no longer be able to use the threat of deportation as a weapon to keep workers from asserting their rights or enforcing standards on the job. In addition to broad affirmative relief, the administration should create a process through which workers engaged in protected activity, such as forming or joining a union or filing a health and safety violation, would be safe from retaliation based on their legal status.

Such executive action would create considerable new economic opportunities for working people. Community members and co-workers would be able to live without fear, drive without fear and work without fear. Worker rights in the United States are at an all-time low and our nation has been cited by the International Trade Union Confederation for systematic failure to protect core standards such as freedom of association. Broad relief would ensure all workers are better able to assert their rights and work together to enforce core standards. By exercising his full authority, the president could lift our economy while making our country more just. We urge him to recognize the need to act boldly—for the good of us all.