A broad coalition which includes the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and dozens of immigrants’ rights, civil rights, community, religious and ethnic organizations and coalitions is mobilizing for a mass march on Washington D.C. on March 21, to demand the passage of progressive immigration reform legislation.
“Reform Immigration for America” came together last spring after different labor groups reached an agreement on a legislative approach to comprehensive immigration reform. In previous years labor had been split on the specific trade offs entailed in legislative packages. Although all understood that a perfect bill could not be passed because of the need to make concessions so as to get some Republicans on board, some unions whose organizing strategy is focused heavily on immigrant workers, including SEIU, UNITE-HERE, United Farm Workers and FLOC, had been willing to accept the addition of a large guest worker program (up to 400,000 slots per year) as a trade off for the legalization of the 8.5 million or so undocumented workers thought to be in the country. On the other hand, the AFL-CIO and several Change to Win unions were opposed to any legislation that included an increase in guest workers.
The solution agreed on in the spring of 2009 was that instead of authorizing large-scale new guest worker programs, Congress would create a special commission or task force, with union participation, which would assess the labor needs of the country and make recommendations on the issuance of all kinds of work related visas on an ongoing basis.
The agreement among the unions made it possible to create the Reform Immigration for America (RI4A) coalition, which developed a legislative wish list. All year, RI4A and its member organizations have been engaged in intensive organizing and publicity efforts, most notably in churches around the country, which have held joint public events often involving their local congressional representatives.
The culmination of these organizing efforts has been legislation introduced by Congresspersons Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), that incorporates almost all of the demands of RI4A. The bill, HR 4321 is called “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009” (CIRASP) and currently has 94 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. Like all federal bills, you can read it at http://thomas.loc.gov.
However, nothing has happened yet in the Senate. Last fall, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), presented an outline of “principles” for a Senate bill. These principles are considerably to the right of the Ortiz-Gutierrez bill, but would do the priority job of legalizing the undocumented, and do not propose a large new guest worker program. It was expected that a bill with Schumer as chief sponsor would be presented last fall, but this did not happen. Washington sources say Schumer and the Democratic leadership want the bill to be “bipartisan”, evidently to give the Democrats political cover. Schumer has been negotiating with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
The immigrants’ rights movement very much wanted a bill to be passed last year, to minimize the extent to which it would become entangled in the 2010 election year demagogy. Many are frustrated that President Obama did not push the issue but left it up to the initiative of Congress. They fear that if a bill is not achieved by March, there will not be another chance, because the Democrats may be in a weaker position after the election. There has been no letup in the anti-immigrant propaganda, and Republicans have introduced several anti-immigrant bills. These would, among other things, force all employers to use E-Verify (a highly unreliable electronic verification system whereby employers can check if employees are eligible to work in the United States) for all employees, and strip U.S. citizenship from children born in the U.S.A. to undocumented parents. Meanwhile, though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has basically stopped the big, ugly factory raids that characterized the last Bush years, other kinds of immigration enforcement actions have increased.
The White House has reiterated its desire to see a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed. News sources reported that last week, president Obama met with Senators Schumer and Graham to encourage them to come up with a bill.
Meanwhile, immigrants’ rights activists are urging maximum participation in the March 21 demonstrations in Washington. They stress that the better the turnout, the better the leverage on Congress and the White House. To find out more details go to www.reformimmigrationforamirica.org.