That’s because by leaving some 5 million undocumented immigrant adults – parents of U.S. citizens – in the economic shadows, the justices also condemn them to being unable to stand up and fight for fair wages and other rights, adds Daniel Costa.
And it hurts non-immigrant workers, too, he declares, as exploitative employers use the threat of hiring undocumented adults to force other workers to take lower wages and benefits.
On June 23, the justices tied 4-4 on a case by right-wing-governed Texas and 25 other states against Obama’s plan to let the adults stay in the U.S. That effectively kills his initiative, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). The 1-sentence ruling, with no explanation, leaves the issue in the lap, next year, of the incoming president and Congress.
Unions that support undocumented workers and their rights, vowed to continue the fight. But they also said they would use the decision to energize relatives of the undocumented to become citizens – if they now have green cards – register and vote, and to vote based on politicians’ stands on legalization.
Costa, in EPI’s Working Economics blog, pointed out the financial impact on the undocumented workers, many of them already in low-paying jobs such as in landscaping, bars and restaurants and hotels.
“Since implementation of” Obama’s plan “has been prevented, millions of unauthorized immigrants will not be eligible to apply for and obtain an employment authorization document from the Department of Homeland Security that allows them to work legally,” Costa explained.
“This means millions of workers will continue to lack access to basic labor standards and employment law protections – a terrible outcome for both unauthorized immigrants and American workers.”
Costa explained that two-thirds of the undocumented adults have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years and that more than 20 percent of them have been here for at least 20 years. He calculated that one of every 20 U.S. workers is undocumented. But without papers, those workers’ options are limited and they’re subject to roundups and deportation at any time.
Indeed, the AFL-CIO and other unions have strongly protested the record numbers of deportations of adults that Obama’s DHS has undertaken, and demanded the administration halt such expulsions. Obama has turned a deaf ear.
“Because they lack work authorization,” the undocumented adults “cannot effectively complain when they are paid below the minimum wage or aren’t paid for overtime hours, or when their employer subjects them to unsafe conditions. Unauthorized immigrants know that if they complain, their employers can call immigration authorities and get them deported,” Costa said. “That fear keeps unauthorized workers docile and quiet, which in turn diminishes the bargaining power of Americans who work alongside unauthorized workers.”
“Keeping unauthorized immigrants exploitable and underpaid by preventing them from accessing deferred action and employment authorization will only benefit rogue employers and corporations while keeping the wages of low-wage workers in the United States from rising,” he concluded.
Unions criticized the court’s indecision. California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said the court “leaves millions of hard-working California immigrant families at risk.”
Pulaski added unions in the Golden State – the nation’s most-populous and home to its largest Hispanic population – are “steadfast in their resolve to protect the rights and well-being of immigrants who came to this country in search of a better life for themselves and their children.”
Since Congress can’t or won’t act on comprehensive immigration reform, which the state fed still backs, California unions will continue to champion state laws to protect the undocumented “from exploitation on and off the job.”
That includes a state law giving 700,000 undocumented Californians the right to get state drivers’ licenses – the excuse Texas used in launching its lawsuit that stopped Obama’s undocumented adult protection plan.
Other unions pledged to focus on electoral politics to defend the undocumented, and legalize their status.
Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan called Obama’s pro-undocumented-adults executive order “a temporary solution” because the GOP-run U.S. House killed the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. Though he did not say so, then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to even allow hearings on it.
“The current system is broken and leads to unfair results in far too many cases, including tragic family separations and worker exploitation. It is outrageous and perplexing” that the GOP-run Congress killed comprehensive reform, O’Sullivan added. His union is one of several with a high proportion of Latino members.
“It’s up to Congress to right the injustices in our current immigration system and it’s urgent that they do so. The 2016 election, which is around the corner, will set the stage for action on immigration and many other issues critical to our members,” O’Sullivan added. The Laborers “strongly support candidates, including Secretary Hillary Clinton for president, who will champion working class families, fight for immigration reform, and put the right person on the Supreme Court so that America continues to be a country that provides protection from exploitation and grants every person the opportunity to prosper from hard work.”
“This is far from over. While the Supreme Court split decision failed to deliver justice for all of America’s families, our fight does not stop here,” Service Employees Executive Vice President Rocio Saenz vowed.
“Let’s be absolutely clear: We will continue to mobilize voters to elect leaders – from the highest office to the down-ballot – who will fight for the president’s immigration action and champion immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship. We will vote, we will march, and we’ll hold those accountable at the ballot box who have stood in the way of families with their anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. Today is an injustice, but tomorrow we will vote.”
“We need to mobilize to elect champions who will fight to keep immigrant families together and create a path to citizenship, not tear families apart and deport millions,” added SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.
Photo: At a Chicago immigration reform protest against deportations. John Bachtell | PW