This coming Sunday, March 21, thousands of immigrants and their allies from unions, community and faith based organizations will converge on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to call for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
A progressive immigration reform that protects the rights of both immigrant and U.S. born workers is an essential step towards the resolution of the economic crisis. There are estimated to be between 10 and 11 million undocumented immigrants, at least 8 million of whom are in the labor force. These immigrants want to join labor unions so that they can struggle alongside U.S.-born workers for justice on the job and in the community, yet they can not because their undocumented status gives them no rights. Thus they have to accept lower pay and worse working conditions than would be the case if they had legal status. This undercuts the position of all workers in the country, reduces the consumption power of the working class, and, even though undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, deprives federal, state and local governments of increased revenues that would come from higher earnings. The lack of political rights of these immigrant workers also weakens the whole working class. In addition, there are believed to be about 4 million U.S. citizen children with one or both parents undocumented, who, on a daily basis face the cruel possibility of the arrest and deportation of a mother and father.
The anti-immigrant lobby, rooted in the fascist far right, tells U.S. born workers that the undocumented are "stealing their jobs" and claims that their mass deportation would "open up" jobs for U.S. born workers. They have convinced many, but this is fallacious reasoning. Workers of every kind, immigrant and U.S. born, documented and undocumented, occupy jobs in the economy, but also create wealth by their toil and engage in other activities (as consumers and taxpayers) that create jobs for others. Were that not the case, we could say that every worker in the country is potentially "taking a job" from some other potential worker. The problem is not "taking jobs" but lack of rights, which weakens working-class solidarity.
A recent study by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Institute, "Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform," concludes that the legalization of the undocumented would add $1.5 trillion to our country's Gross Domestic Product over a 10 year period, and generate billions in new tax revenues each year. This translates into many thousands of desperately needed jobs. Legalizing the undocumented will create jobs, not take them away.
This, and basic justice, is more than enough reason to fight for comprehensive immigration reform now.
Photo: Students march for immigrant rights May 2009 in Chicago. Pepe Lozano/PW