Campaign demands immigration reform

A broad nationwide grassroots coalition of labor, ethnic, religious and community groups is working to collect signatures on a million postcards demanding immigration policies that allow undocumented immigrants in the United States to earn legal status.

The postcards will be delivered to President Bush and members of Congress on Oct. 9, as the fall election campaign heats up.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the initiators of the postcard campaign, said, “Immigrants work hard, pay taxes, and make essential contributions to our economy. Our outdated immigration laws force many immigrants and their families to live in fear of deportation for simply doing the work we count on.”

SEIU spokesperson Christy Hawkins told the World, “The basic concept is: if you work hard and pay taxes, you should have an opportunity to become a citizen.”

Sin Fronteras, a Chicago community organization with mostly Mexican-American members, has collected 8,000 signed postcards so far and will continue its efforts through the campaign’s remaining weeks. The group, like others around the country, plans to send a delegation to Washington to deliver them.

Organizers point out that immigrant workers are essential and productive contributors to our economy and our communities. Immigrants work, pay taxes, and contribute more to the Social Security and Medicare system than they collect from it.

A recent University of California at Los Angeles study shows undocumented immigrants contribute at least $300 billion to the gross national product annually.

Immigration status should not create a pool of second-class workers, who do not have full employment rights or civil rights, says the SEIU.

As it is now, the union says, immigration status is a tool for employers to exploit workers and intimidate those who seek living wages, affordable health care and basic respect at work.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, immigrant workers have been “sacrificial lambs” in the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism,” a California coalition of immigrant rights groups and unions charged earlier this month.

“The immigrant community has been under constant bombardment for the last year,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

Immigrant workers, mostly in travel-related jobs, have been fired and harassed by the thousands since last September, said Maria Elena Durazo, a Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees national vice president.

Thousand of immigrants working without proper documents have lost their jobs because of increased scrutiny of Social Security numbers by the government and employers.

Last month, more than 100 airport workers in Southern California were arrested as part of “Operation Tarmac.” The government claimed the arrests were necessary to improve airport security, but none of those arrested were tied to any terrorist groups. Most were charged only with using false documents to obtain their jobs.

Postcard campaign organizers say the answer is not harassment and arrests, but immigration reform that “rewards work” by providing a fair and efficient process to enable undocumented workers to gain legal status. The cards are available at the SEIU website, www.seiu.org/action_center/issues_and_action/immigration/.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org