Labor, religious groups defend immigrant rights

Labor, religious and civil rights groups are urging that supporters of immigrant rights should focus now on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is likely to begin debate on immigration legislation in February.

In a Jan. 17 letter to the Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson urged that legislation should “work toward a system that protects and guarantees the rights of all workers, both native and foreign-born, and that guarantees the safety of our nation without compromising our fundamental civil rights.”

The Catholic Church’s Justice for Immigrants nationwide campaign is giving emphasis to contacting the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in their mobilization to win legal status of undocumented workers and defeat repressive measures, says campaign director Leo Anchondo. “We want people to contact their own states’ senators as well as the committee,” he added.

Extremely repressive legislation was railroaded through the House of Representatives by House Judiciary chair James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Sensenbrenner limited the House Committee discussion to a few hours for his more than 160-page bill, HR 4437. Then the bill was rushed through the House floor and passed with the support of President Bush and the House Republican leadership.

On Jan. 20 the National Immigration Forum issued a legislative alert that called on immigration advocates who “have a senator who sits on the Judiciary Committee to weigh in with your senator immediately.”

On Jan. 19, SEIU President Andy Stern, Laborers President Terence O’Sullivan, Thomas Donohue the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the Catholic Conference of Bishops and the American Health Care Association called on the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform that provides legalization with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. PAI reported that after the press conference, SEIU’s Stern said the union would be working on the issue in key states and congressional districts and that senators who focus primarily on border enforcement “like (California Democrat Dianne) Feinstein have the wrong idea.” Feinstein is a member of the Senate Judiciary committee.

Local and state immigrant rights coalitions are building pressure as well. In a recent Minneapolis press conference, the Alliance for Fair Federal Immigration of Minnesota criticized a restrictive plan by Gov. Tim Pawlenty as paralleling the extreme measures in HR 4437.

Although coalition groups differ in their emphases, all stress the rejection of the enforcement-only measures of HR 4437. All stress the importance of legalization with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, priority on family unification, protection of due process procedures, and strong labor protections. Many groups around the country are mobilizing for pro-immigrant rights actions in response to President Bush’s Jan. 31 State of the Union address.