Immigration reform lifts up all workers, says civil rights leader

WASHINGTON (PAI) – A top civil rights leader has restated the value of comprehensive immigration reform to all U.S. workers, documented and undocumented. But the tea party-run GOP House majority may not be listening to him, or anyone else.

In a July 23 press conference with youthful undocumented people, assembled by United We Dream – the coalition that is the face of the 3.5 million undocumented youth – Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights renewed his group’s position for a path to legalization and citizenship not just for the Dreamers, but their parents, too. The AFL-CIO is part of the Leadership Conference.

“There must be an earned path to citizenship for everybody,” Henderson declared, referring to the Dreamers and the 7.5 million undocumented adults in the U.S.

“Fear of deportation among long-term residents…has a toxic effect on us all,” he said. “When immigrants don’t report crime because of that fear, we are all in trouble. When workers are not able to report abuses on the job because of fear, then all workers are harmed. And if there is a 2-caste system in this country, democracy is harmed.”

The Dreamers took the same stand at the press conference, repeatedly emphasizing the Republican House majority must not try to split them from their parents by passing the GOP-authored Kids Act, a more-restrictive version of the Dream Act, while continuing to leave their parents and other adults in the shadows.

“We’re here to send a strong message to the GOP about its so-called Kids Act: We decided unanimously to fight for all undocumented people in the U.S. – for our parents, for our siblings, for our uncles, for our sisters and for our brothers,” said United We Dream Director Cristina Jimenez. “As we hear from the GOP that they want to provide legalization only for young people, how could we leave our parents, who have sacrificed everything for us, behind?”

Legalizing the adults, not just the kids, is important to workers. That’s because venal and vicious employers exploit undocumented adults, underpaying them, refusing to pay overtime, working them in abominable conditions and then threatening them with deportation when they speak up. Employers also use the threat of hiring undocumented adults to force other workers to accept cuts in pay, benefits and worker protections.

The lawmakers, all of them Democrats, who joined the group, crowded into a basement room in the Capitol to agree with the Dreamers. But the GOP, in a work session of the House Judiciary Committee the same afternoon, did not. It campaigned for the Kids Act, and ignored any solution for the undocumented adults. Few Republican lawmakers heeded the Dreamers’ testimony later that afternoon.

Photo: A sign from a march of undocumented workers. Unions rallied for immigrant rights on April 10 in Washington D.C. Sam Felder/Flickr (CC)




Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.