Unions report positive reception on the Hill for immigration reform

WASHINGTON – Local unionists who descended on Congress on June 11-13 to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform reported many favorable reactions from lawmakers – and even from Republicans.

Reflecting the results of her own meetings and what she heard from colleagues, Yvanna Cancela, political director for 50,000-member Unite Here Culinary Workers Local 226 in Las Vegas, said she even got favorable responses from freshman Rep. Mark Amadei and second-termer Joe Heck, both Nevada Republicans, as well as Nevada Democrats.

Democrats were no problem, the union lobbyists say. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told the group he is enthusiastic about comprehensive reform. “He also feels strongly about not tacking on egregious amendments” its foes craft, she said.

Nevada has a large and rapidly growing Hispanic-American and Asian-American population, a point unionists made to lawmakers. Other unionists also told their senators and representatives the same thing and emphasized the issue’s importance to those two groups.

Some 60 local union leaders from 27 states split up and met both senators and representatives on the issue. They championed the comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate is currently considering. Debate is expected to last until July 4.

The Senate bill includes a 13-year path to permanent residence and eventual citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented people, strong employment verification systems, strengthened protection of the U.S. southern border and guest worker provisions satisfying both unions and business.

The legislation would also bring the undocumented people immediately under labor law, as soon as they register for “provisional immigrant” status, at the start of the 13-year clock. That would help prevent venal and vicious employers from exploiting undocumented workers – and from using the threat of hiring them to drive other workers’ wages and living standards down.

“This is about all of us,” AFSCME Legislative Director Chuck Loveless added in an e-mail alert to his union’s million-plus members to lobby their senators. “It’s about Rebecca Zaremba of AFSCME Local 34, Council 5, a case management assistant in Minnesota who is trying to help immigrant families access the services they need.

“It’s about Hupert Rose, the water plant operator in Florida, AFSCME Local 3293, Council 79, who came to the United States in search of opportunity and works hard for it. It’s about Edmundo Cavazos, the medical interpreter in Washington, AFSCME Local 1671, Council 28, who helps immigrant families navigate so much more than just our medical system.

“AFSCME supports S744,” the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill, “because it would boost our economy, provide more money for public services and raise wages for all workers,” Loveless added in his e-mail alert to members.

A bipartisan group of House members was working on a similar comprehensive bill, but that effort has apparently failed. The tea party-GOP-run House may wind up with separate and ultra-conservative immigration bills – or nothing at all. “But both sides seem like they can be open to a pathway to citizenship” for the undocumented people, Cancela said. “I was impressed with how committed and excited they (the lawmakers) are on immigration reform.”

Photo: Unite Here!


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.