Immigration: AFL-CIO pushing lawmakers to protect Dreamers, TPS recipients
DACA recipient Yazmin Irazoqui Ruiz waits to testify at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on protections for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients and undocumented immigrant youth, known as DREAMers, on Wednesday, March 6, on Capitol Hill in Washington. | Sait Serkan Gurbuz / AP

NEW ORLEANS—Lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill are likely to approve labor-backed legislation to keep the Dreamers and beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status rights—two groups of migrants endangered by President Donald Trump’s deportations—in the U.S.

So says Bricklayers President Jim Boland, chair of the AFL-CIO’s Immigration Committee, in an interview during the federation’s Executive Council meeting in New Orleans.

“The prospects look very promising,” and not just in the new Democratic-run pro-worker U.S. House, he explained. Boland pointed out that several years ago, a bipartisan coalition of senators crafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill and pushed it through the GOP-run Senate with a large majority.

That measure protected both groups, plus farmworkers, and also provided a path to permanent residency for many of the migrants. But then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, responding to the nativists in the ruling GOP, killed the Senate’s bill.

“Historically, the Senate has been able to work out bipartisan immigration reform,” Boland said, citing that legislation and other attempts. “It’s a different world now” with the House changeover.

Keeping those groups of migrants in the U.S. is important for both unions and the workforce in general.

The Dreamers are 700,000-800,000 young people brought to the U.S., without papers, as small children who have since grown up. They, like other undocumented people, had to live in the economic shadows—taking low-wage jobs and often exploited by employers, who also use them as a bargaining chip to repress other workers’ wages, working conditions, and organizing drives.

Democratic President Barack Obama brought the Dreamers out of hiding with his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many now go to high school, college, or have graduated, while others joined the military. But Trump dumped DACA and has tried to throw the Dreamers out of the country before federal judges stopped his evictions.

The 500,000-plus Temporary Protected Status workers and their families have been in the U.S. for decades. Like the DACA beneficiaries, they come from Latin America, but also from Syria and Libya, among other countries. TPS holders fled wars, gang violence, and natural disasters. But they must periodically reregister with authorities and pay several hundred dollars for permits.

And like the Dreamers, they’re mostly non-white, so Trump, playing to his own prejudices and those of many of his followers, wants to evict them.

Above: Bricklayers Union President Jim Boland talks about TPS. | YouTube

They’re also vital in the construction industry, Boland points out. And that led a coalition of 31 unions, led by Painters President Ken Rigmaiden, to tell Congress that the week before the AFL-CIO meeting, in a joint letter to the House Judiciary Committee. The panel listened to Dreamers and TPS beneficiaries in its March 4 hearing on the legislation to keep them here, H.R. 6. Working Families United, a seven-union coalition Rigmaiden formed to specifically save the TPS recipients, joined them.

“As labor organizations representing millions of workers in the U.S., we urge you to renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations and pass legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as possible…to provide permanent protection and a path to citizenship for Dreamers and individuals with TPS or Deferred Enforced Departure” status, their letter said.

“When TPS holders and Dreamers are at risk, all workers are more vulnerable to employer abuses.  However, when workers, including TPS holders and Dreamers, have legal status and rights, all work-places benefit from higher wages, safer workplaces, and the right and ability to form and join a union.”

“For humanitarian and economic reasons, this legislation must pass. Dreamers, TPS, and DED recipients have, for decades, done the work that American industries and our local economies rely on, and they deserve to stay,” Rigmaiden said in an accompanying statement.

“Many TPS recipients are members of our union, and I know they work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules. Deportation back to their home country to face violence or disaster conditions would shatter their orderly lives and our economy. Congress must stand up to President Trump’s hateful, racist objections and show that we are a welcoming country, just as it has been for millions of immigrants from all corners of the world who have helped the United States become an economic engine.”

“These programs have been vital in ensuring thousands of working people have rights on the job and the freedom to negotiate together for fair pay and working conditions,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in his statement accompanying the joint letter. It’s long past time, he said, for lawmakers to give both the Dreamers and TPS recipients “a pathway to citizenship.”

But Rigmaiden’s words point out the biggest obstacle to keeping the Dreamers, the TPS recipients, and other migrants in the U.S.: Trump. That’s where business could weigh in, Boland thinks. “Can we get some Republicans?” he asked rhetorically. It depends, he replied, on whether employers, in the interest of having a stable and growing workforce, have the will to stand up to the president.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.