Unions: Keep immigration open to family members

WASHINGTON - Unions and their allies, led by the AFL-CIO, back changes to the draft comprehensive immigration law that would keep immigration rights open for family members of current permanent residents.

Whether the amendment, by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, will succeed, is open to question. Immigration bill crafters want to admit fewer family members and more workers with high skills. They have successfully fended off GOP-offered weakening amendments as the Senate Judiciary Committee worked its way through the draft.

But that doesn't mean every amendment was rejected. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., won an 18-0 vote for his amendment that - in so many words - says if immigration enforcement officials pick up undocumented parents of minor children, the parents should be given adequate time to make child care arrangements, and contact social service agencies. And the parents should not be shipped off to distant points.

Hirono's and Franken's amendments were among the hundreds that senators slogged through as they labored to finish committee work on the immigration overhaul before Memorial Day. If they succeed, the full Senate will debate it in June.

In their letter, the 204 unions, civil rights, immigrant rights and community groups told senators that "family-based immigration has significant economic benefits, especially for long-term economic growth."

But the proposed immigration law would "shut out siblings and married adult children" of current residents, including U.S. citizens, their letter adds. The immigration bill "also creates an experimental 'points'-based system that may not allow these family members to reunite with their U.S. citizen parents or siblings.

"With this system, even if you may have some of the 'right' attributes, such as a college degree and employment history, and are the sibling of a U.S. citizen, you still may not get a visa through this new system, depending on demand in any given year. In addition, given that women rely on the family-based system more, we are also con-cerned that women may be disadvantaged in this new system. Women from countries where women's educational and employment opportunities are limited will be unlikely to accumulate enough 'points' to gain entry into the U.S.," the groups' letter warns.

Besides the AFL-CIO, letter signers include: The American Federation of Teachers, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), an AFL-CIO constituency group, and its Nevada chapter, the CSEA-AFL-CIO, the Laborers, the National Education Association, the Service Employees and three SEIU locals (744, 775NW, and United Service Workers West) and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

"Americans should not have to choose between living and working in the U.S. with no family support and living in a country that offers few opportunities for families. Brothers and sisters and children of all ages are an inextricable part of any family. A narrow concept of family downplays the valuable contributions made by all family members. Any policy that would undermine critical family ties goes against our identity as a nation," the letter says.

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