WASHINGTON - The nation's largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, launched an unprecedented national petition campaign yesterday demanding that President Obama take administrative action to remove the threat of deportation hanging over some 11 million immigrants.
The petition, which is available on the federation's website, was sent to more than 50 member unions and hundreds of allied organizations, according to the AFL-CIO.
Accompanying the petition was a message by the AFL-CIO's president, Richard Trumka, to the working families of the nation. "When I think about immigration, I thing about boats," he said. "I think about boats coming to America long ago, filled with hopeful workers in search of a better life."
In a reference to right wingers at the border who have blocked busloads of children and to tea party and GOP efforts to use immigrants as fodder for political hate campaigns, Trumka continued: "And I think about what those boats would look like now. They'd be turned in the other direction, deporting those hopeful workers and separating our families. Because America doesn't welcome her children now - our broken patchwork of policies turns them away."
Supporters of administrative action note that in 2012 President Obama was able to stop the deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented young adults under the program known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The idea is that a program like DACA, but only bigger, would allow the millions more of undocumented immigrants to work legally in the U.S. without having to fear expulsion from the country.
In making his argument for administrative action Trumka hit hard at the disastrous impact of U.S. immigration policy on families.
"Too many families have been separated because of our broken immigration system," he declared. "Tragically, this heartbreak happens every day because Congress had failed to act on a commonsense immigration process."
Trumka made it clear that the federation has launched the petition campaign for administrative action by the President because the AFL-CIO does not expect that Republicans in the House will ever be serious about getting anything done on immigration reform.
"The crisis at worksites around the country and in our neighborhoods continues and just can't wait any longer," he said.
"It is downright silly to hold out hope that House Republicans will suddenly rediscover their hearts and realize it's important to have a values-based immigration system."
Trumka shared what he said were his words with President Obama as he urged the president to take administrative action.
"I told the President this is the right thing to do. Every possible step that could be taken should be taken."
The federation has laid out precisely what it believes those steps should be in a memorandum to the Department of Homeland Security.
Trumka explained why unions see the fight for immigration reform as critically important for the labor movement.
"The labor movement can never stand by when workers are mistreated," he said. "We don't stand by when immigrant workers aren't paid fair wages on the construction site, or when employers use shady tactics to fire hotel workers based on their immigration status when they stand up for their rights."
Trumka's remarks reflected the growing willingness in the labor movement to confront those anti-immigrant voices that say immigrants take away American jobs.
"We stand up for immigrant rights because there are jobs on the table," Trumka said. "Like the 800,000 new jobs that would be created by immigration reform, we fight like hell for every single one.
"That's what immigration is all about. It's about work," Trumka said. "About making a better life. And about knowing that if you can just work hard at a good job, your life will be better."
Photo: AFL-CIO website.